For the first time, scientists have been able to use data from brain scans to identify who patients are thinking about.
Researchers from Cornell University have been analysing data from functional MRI scans in an attempt to reconstruct what memories people are recalling. But now they've gone a step further, by trying to deduce the mental picture of an individual in a person's head from just their brain activity, reports Scientific American. Nathan Spreng, the researcher behind the project, explains:
"We are trying to understand the physical mechanisms that allow us to have an inner world, and a part of that is how we represent other people in our mind."
So he and his team gave 19 volunteers descriptions of four imaginary people, each with different personalities and traits. Then their brains were scanned using fMRI, while they were asked how these individuals might behave in social situations.
It turns out that each of the four individuals triggered unique patterns of brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex — effectively demonstrating, for the frist time, that it's possible to decode from brain activity who people are thinking about. Speng explains again:
"The scope of this is incredible when you think of all the people you meet over the course of your life and are able to remember. Each one probably has its own unique representation in the brain This representation can be modified as we share experiences and learn more about each other, and plays into how we imagine future events with others unfolding."