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Reading minds ... or at least brain scans

Computer model knows whether 'airplane' or 'celery' was on your mind

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1:06pm, May 29, 2008

By analyzing brain activity, a computer model can correctly guess which word a person is pondering, new research suggests. Eventually, the results may help scientists understand the roots of certain kinds of cognitive problems.

Reporting in the May 30 Science, a team used functional magnetic resonance imaging to track neural activity in volunteers shown pictures of airplanes, celery and 58 other everyday objects. Based on these brain scans, a computer model successfully sussed out which object and paired word people were observing — and therefore thinking about.

The study is very clever; it's really an advance,” says Dedre Gentner, a cognitive psychologist at NorthwesternUniversity in Evanston, Ill., who was not involved in the study. Unlike other studies, this one watches the entire brain as it decodes language. “It doesn't assume that language processing goes on in a tiny square inch of brain,&rdquo

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