May 18, 2011

Decoding brainwaves lets scientists read minds

(May 18, 2011)  While currently in the realm of sci-fi fantasy, the ability to read people’s minds has taken a step closer to reality thanks to neuroscientists at the University of Glasgow.

Researchers at the Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology have been able to identify the type of information contained within certain brainwaves related to vision.

Brainwaves – the patterns of electrical activity created in the brain when it is engaged in different activities – can easily be measured using electroencephalography (EEG).

However, knowing exactly what information is encoded within them, and how that encoding takes place, is a mystery.

Professor Philippe Schyns, Director of the Institute of Neurosciences & Psychology and the Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, who led the pioneering study, said: “It’s a bit like unlocking a scrambled television channel. Before, we could detect the signal but couldn’t watch the content; now we can.

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'Mind reading' brain scans reveal secrets of human vision

"Mind reading" scans show that, to our brains, a sparse line drawing of a street scene is almost as recognizable as a detailed color photograph.

(May 18, 2011)  Researchers call it mind reading. One at a time, they show a volunteer – who's resting in an MRI scanner – a series of photos of beaches, city streets, forests, highways, mountains and offices. The subject looks at the photos, but says nothing.

The researchers, however, can usually tell which photo the volunteer is watching at any given moment, aided by sophisticated software that interprets the signals coming from the scan. They glean clues not only by noting what part of the brain is especially active, but also by analyzing the patterns created by the firing neurons. They call it decoding.

Now, psychologists and computer scientists at Stanford, Ohio State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign have taken mind reading a step further, with potential impact on how both computers and the visually impaired make sense of the world they see.

May 5, 2011

The benefits of meditation

MIT and Harvard neuroscientists explain why the practice helps tune out distractions and relieve pain.

(May 5, 2011)  Studies have shown that meditating regularly can help relieve symptoms in people who suffer from chronic pain, but the neural mechanisms underlying the relief were unclear. Now, MIT and Harvard researchers have found a possible explanation for this phenomenon.

In a study published online April 21 in the journal Brain Research Bulletin, the researchers found that people trained to meditate over an eight-week period were better able to control a specific type of brain waves called alpha rhythms.

“These activity patterns are thought to minimize distractions, to diminish the likelihood stimuli will grab your attention,” says Christopher Moore, an MIT neuroscientist and senior author of the paper. “Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by allowing you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you.”

There are several different types of brain waves that help regulate the flow of information between brain cells, similar to the way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies. Alpha waves, the focus of this study, flow through cells in the brain’s cortex, where sensory information is processed. The alpha waves help suppress irrelevant or distracting sensory information.

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