Reading Minds Using Brain Scanning Technology?

by Vins

Scientists have discovered that using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of the mind can allow scientists to read and understand brain activity in new, powerful ways. In its current state, fMRI scanning is not accurate or fast enough to be used effectively for anything other than research, but with enough time and study, the abilities of these scans can be similar to something from a science fiction novel, Julia Gottwald and Barbara Sahakian report.

Gottwald and Sahakian report on current research using fMRIs to determine the “brain signature of lying,” i.e., the specific areas of the brain that “light up” on an fMRI when someone is lying. So far judges have ruled that fMRI technology is not ready for use in courtrooms. As Gottwald and Sahakian report, “90% accuracy sounds impressive, but would we want to send somebody to prison if there is a chance that they are innocent?”

At present, undergoing an fMRI scan involves “lying still in a big noise tube for long periods of time.” But, Gottwald and Sahakian speculate, “this raises some chilling questions about the possibility for a ‘Big Brother’ future where our innermost thoughts can be routinely monitored.” Although there is “no immediate danger of undercover scans,” fMRI can still be used unethically. Gottwald and Sahakian note that, while academic researchers engaged in fMRI research must undertake a thorough review process, explaining the potential risks and benefits of the research to an ethics committee, no such guidelines constrain fMRI research in commercial settings.

Source: Julia Gottwald and Barbara Sahakian, “Brain Scanners Allow Scientists to ‘Read Minds’—Could They Now Enable a ‘Big Brother’ Future?,” The Conversation, February 9, 2017,

Student Researcher: Jacob Boykin (Indian River State College)

Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)