Friday, July 1, 2011

Scientists read minds to predict hand actions

Canadian and U.S. researchers have been able to predict what hand movement a person is going to make by reading a scan of their brain.

The scientists at the University of Western Ontario and the University of Oregon scanned the brains of nine volunteers at the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ont. They found they were able to distinguish somewhat accurately among plans to make three hand movements that were only slightly different from one another:

Grasping the top of an object.
Grasping the bottom of an object.
Touching the object.

"We're showing that you can decode little subtle differences in finger movements based on the goal of the movement," said Jason Gallivan, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario and the lead author of a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience this week.

Previously, scientists had only been able to make similar predictions for animals with electrodes inserted in their brains. Funcational magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, is far less intrusive, said Jody Culham, a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario who is Gallivan’s supervisor and co-author. That made it possible to do such an experiment in humans.

While the new discovery may bring to mind Minority Report, the 2002 movie starring Tom Cruise where criminals are caught before the crimes they commit, Gallivan said that type of scenario is a long way off. (read more)