Now scientists read your mind better than you can

Tue Jun 22, 2010 6:19pm EDT
 
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Brain scans may be able to predict what you will do better than you can yourself, and might offer a powerful tool for advertisers or health officials seeking to motivate consumers, researchers said on Tuesday.

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.

"We are trying to figure out whether there is hidden wisdom that the brain contains," Falk said in a telephone interview.

"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 uses a magnetic field to measure blood flow in the brain. It can show which brain regions are more active compared to others, but requires careful interpretation.

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.   Continued...