Category Archives: Psychology

Psychology – news and items of interest.

Scientists Use Functional MRI to Read Peoples’ Minds

Scientists are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to reconstruct images seen by people and read their thoughts. This technology, which is relatively new compared to x-ray imaging techniques, uses the nuclear spin of hydrogen nuclei to construct an image. This makes the technology especially well suited to the imaging of soft tissues, and if you happen to know someone who has received an MRI it was mostly likely for a tumor or joint damage.

fMRI is related to traditional MRI, but provides less information about structure and instead focuses on what researchers refer to as the BOLD signal. BOLD stands for blood-oxygen-level-dependence, and what that means is that the scan is looking at what areas of your brain are using oxygen. Basically, it shows which areas of your brain are being used to process information. Sound confusing? Here is an image from an fMRI study I participated in several years ago; it is showing which areas of my brain were activated when a citrus scent was applied to my nose.

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The New Polygraph?

Now scientists are using this same technology to try and read peoples’ minds. It sounds a bit dramatic at first, but really is only another tool that’s not all that much different from a polygraph. It is not the type of device that will just tell us flat out whether or not someone is lying.

What researchers have done are experiments where subjects are shown a card. Some of the subjects are asked to lie about their answers while the others tell the truth. The scientists then look at the different regions of the brain that are activated between the liars and the truth tellers. After this calibration run, different subjects are put through the same experiment, but the scientists don’t know beforehand who the liars are and who the truth tellers are. Various studies are showing accuracies between 80-90%. Although these claims are much better than the current polygraph technology, it still requires vetting by the MRI community to confirm these claims. Research into this field is also being met with moral and legal reservations.

The Moral and Legal Implications

There are definitely concerns being raised over the morality of these studies. Researchers involved in this line of work are currently receiving millions of dollars in funding from the federal government and interested corporations. Some of these companies are already using these types of experiments to determine the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns, Viacom the owners of MTV and Nickelodeon being one of them.

Civil libertarians worry that this technology could eventually undermine the 5th Amendment’s right not to self incriminate. Another argument is that the jury should be the final arbiters determining the truth and not some technology. By removing the human component of trials and replacing it with a biometric, the legal system would be forever changed and not necessarily in a good way. No Lie MRI, a company that is currently using fMRI technology to this end, has already tried submitting this type of evidence to courts. So far none of the courts have allowed their work to be submissible as evidence.

Another concern is the potential to exploit the technology by using it on unsuspecting people. Right now, this is not feasible. MRI machines use a very large superconducting magnet that is cooled to just tenths of a degree above absolute zero. They weigh several tons and require ground floor installation on reinforced concrete. In order to take the image, your head has to be inserted into the bore of the magnet. If a remote brain imaging technology were ever developed, it certainly won’t be based on MRI.

Bio: Alexis Bonari is currently a resident blogger at College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching scholarships for agricultural students as well as interest on student loans. Whenever this WAHM gets some free time she enjoys doing yoga, cooking with the freshest organic in-season fare, and practicing the art of coupon clipping.

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Two heads actually ARE better than one, if both are competent and communicate!

We may assume or generally believe that collaborating with others helps us to solve problems more effectively and make better decisions, but is it really true? Scientists at University College London and Aarhus University, Denmark did a study that showed that two heads can definitely be better than one, if both partners are competent and are able to discuss Continue reading

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It’s official: On Facebook, people enjoy actively searching more than just browsing

University of Missouri researcher Kevin Wise is interested in what people really do on Facebook and how they feel while doing “social browsing” versus “social searching.” Other studies about social networking sites have involved asking people to recall their online behaviors and feelings, but Wise went farther: he recorded what thirty-six participants actually looked at, as well as the physiological responses they had which were associated with motivation and emotion!

Wise categorized participants’ Facebook activities into two different groups: social browsing and social searching. He defined social browsing as looking around on Facebook without a specific goal in mind, such as looking at one’s own news feed or wall. He defined social searching as searching with the goal of finding certain information about a specific person, group, or event. In the study, it turns out that the participants spent most of their time on social browsing and social searching, but the physiological data indicated that participants experienced more pleasure during the course of social searching than they experienced during social browsing.

“We found a more positive response from participants during social searching, or when they had homed in on a particular target,” Continue reading

Gut feelings

Have you ever just known which choice you want to make even though there was a long list of rational reasons why that should not be your choice? I read Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious lately and found it fascinating. I’m very aware that my unconscious mind knows exactly what I want to do sometimes, even when my conscious mind is busy making lists of reasons to do something totally different!

Gut Feelings was written by Gerd Gigerenzer, director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, and offers many examples of times we absolutely use our “gut feelings” to make a decision – often because there is simply no time to sit and calculate using all the facts.  A gut feeling is not a matter of being psychic.   It’s the product of your brain quickly, often unconsciously using a heuristic (rule of thumb) to arrive at a decision using little evidence. In the book he gives a lot of examples where less evidence can lead to better decisions, because there may be one piece of evidence that is so much more important than the others or your unconscious knows that it is more important based on your own experience/environment/instincts, even if it doesn’t appear to have more weight when Continue reading

Facebook makes jealousy and snooping worse

In a blend of fun internet use and scientific method, we have a study from the peer-reviewed journal Cyberpsychology & Behavior which actually proves that spending more time on Facebook can make jealousy worse, and that then leads to a cycle of obsessively looking at your partner’s Facebook page and finding more evidence for jealousy. Previous articles have stated this same thing, but this was the first study to control for personality, individual, and relationship factors and analyze the data in a statistical, scientific way. The analysis shows that Facebook use significantly predicts Facebook-related jealousy. I’m not really surprised! I don’t have a Facebook account right now, but from what I’ve seen with my sons, I had already wondered if people nowadays come home from a good or bad date and rush to see if the other person has changed their Continue reading