Rearateral pattern in the brain

Scientists have succeeded in reading the intentions of subjects at their brain activity

Our thoughts can really read anyone. What we plan and project, other people remain hidden until we put it into action – we believe that at least. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for cognitive and neuroscience, however, has now managed to determine the intentions of their subjects in advance. Your results have published the scientists in Current Biology online.

What can be read from the brain activity of a person over his mind? This question moves brain research for a long time. Previous research has shown that, for example, the perception of images or simple motor activities from the brain activity can be read very well.

John-Dylan Haynes, from the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Neurosciences in Leipzig, and his colleagues from London and Tokyo now went to investigate whether very abstract excursions – Z.B. Appearance, plan to make something for the future – be determined from the brain activity. Thought So that make people to humans. To expand the question, you have combined them with a further complex balance that does not own animals: the calculation.

Free, secret decisions

For their attempts, the researchers asked their subjects simple computational tasks: they should make themselves either add or subtract two numbers – the decision of it was only with them. Even before the subjects got to see the numbers and be expected, the scientists with an accuracy of 70 percent were able to recognize the intention of subjects – based on their brain activity, which Haynes and colleagues recording by functional magnetic resonance tomography (FMRT).

The fine-grained brain activation patterns (right) are different, depending on whether a test prepares an addition or a subtraction. From the activation patterns in the green marked regions, hidden intentions can be read before they are executed by the subject. From the red marked regions, the intentions can be read out when the subject has begun to put the intention into action.Credit: Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Berlin

Other activities, such as the actual expectations or preparation of the hand movement to enter the solution, did not take place in the period of quantities from which the scientists met their forecasts. The numbers appeared only a few seconds later on the monitor and the subjects were able to export their arithmetic task. Haynes in conversation with Telepolis:

We found that each of the two intentions, ie add the numbers to add or subtract them, a characteristic activation pattern in the brain was assigned, a kind of fingerprint. We tried to identify these fingerprints by means of a so-called pattern recognition software. This software works as similar as those used, for example, to detect faces or language. We trained these programs to recognize the activation of the brain associated with such intentions. And in fact, we have succeeded to predict the intentions of our subjects, although they were still secret at the time. We were able to determine when and what decision he met.

Neuronal activity pattern

The fact that researchers get their predictions is due to the special functioning of the brain. A new recognition of this study is not that intentions are not stored in individual nerve cells, but in a spatial distributed pattern of neuronal activity.

So far one knew exactly how thoughts are stored in the brain; One knew only about where the one takes place. For the first time, we could show that not individual cells are conditional for an intention, but that it is whole collectives of nerve cells that form a specific pattern that stores the intention. We have learned how certain thoughts are stored in the brains of individual subjects.


In the circumstances, the pattern of each subject saw individually different, only the brain region, the middle part of the prafrontal cortex, was always the same.

The findings that submit Haynes and his team have different applications: they could help gerates (Z.B. Brain-Computer Interfaces) to improve, which allows for the heaviest movement disabled, to control their limbs or a cursor. So far, intentions for simple motor activities are read out with the brain voltage residue. The present results now open the perspective that even very complex thoughts from the brain activity can be reading. However, this only succeeds with magnetic resonance tomography. The transfer to the electroencephalography must only be dissolved.

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