Predicting Thoughts With Fairly Good Accuracy

readmindThis week, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a new paper by a couple of Harvard University psychologists, Joshua Greene and Joe Paxton, who looked at what happens in our brains when we decide to be dishonest. Among other cool things, they discovered that they could use the brain scans to predict how often certain people in their experiment would lie, with about 80 percent accuracy.
There’s another interesting brain-scanning experiment from a team of researchers at Rutgers University and UCLA. They scanned the brains of volunteers doing eight simple mental tasks, such as reading aloud or counting sounds. Then they looked at the scans and tried to figure out the different brain patterns associated with each task. If people’s brains work similarly, the researchers should be able to look for these patterns in another person’s brain scan and tell which task that person was doing.
The finding? As Russ Poldrack, a psychologist at UCLA who worked on the study, explains:

It turns out that we can predict quite well which of these eight tasks they are doing. If we were just guessing, we would get it right about 13 percent of the time. We get it right about 80 percent of the time with our statistical tool. It’s not perfect, but it is quite good—but not nearly good enough to be admissible in court, for example.
Our study suggests that the kinds of things that some people have talked about in terms of mind reading are probably still pretty far off. If we are only 80 percent accurate with eight very different thoughts and we want to figure out what you’re thinking out of millions of possible thoughts, we’re still very far away from achieving that.

Category: Neuroscience

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