Scan Thyself

For millenia philosophers have exhorted the seeker of wisdom to “Know thyself”. In the future when  functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and Quantitative Electroencephalography (QEEG) are miniaturized enough to fit into an inexpensive helmet that pugs into a home computer, the best method to “know thyself” may be to “scan thyself”.

Now scientists read your mind better than you can

* Scan predicted 75 percent of behavior

* People were right about themselves just half the time

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2010 (Reuters) – Brain scans may be able to predict what you will do better than you can yourself…

They found a way to interpret “real time” brain images to show whether people who viewed messages about using sunscreen would actually use sunscreen during the following week.

The scans were more accurate than the volunteers were, Emily Falk and colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles reported in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“Many people ‘decide’ to do things, but then don’t do them,” Matthew Lieberman, a professor of psychology who led the study, added in a statement.

But with functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, Falk and colleagues were able to go beyond good intentions to predict actual behavior.

fMRI Image

Falk’s team recruited 20 young men and women for their experiment. While in the fMRI scanner they read and listened to messages about the safe use of sunscreen, mixed in with other messages so they would not guess what the experiment was about.

“A week later we did a surprise follow up to find out whether they had used sunscreen,” Falk said in a telephone interview.

About half the volunteers had correctly predicted whether they would use sunscreen. The research team analyzed and re-analyzed the MRI scans to see if they could find any brain activity that would do better.

Activity in one area of the brain, a particular part of the medial prefrontal cortex, provided the best information.

“From this region of the brain, we can predict for about three-quarters of the people whether they will increase their use of sunscreen beyond what they say they will do,” Lieberman said.

“It is the one region of the prefrontal cortex that we know is disproportionately larger in humans than in other primates,” he added. “This region is associated with self-awareness, and seems to be critical for thinking about yourself and thinking about your preferences and values.”

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