Visualizing Human Intention
Neuroscientists may predict what you will do before you do it.
Scientists have verified that it’s possible to predict a person’s actions (specifically, a range of hand movements) before those actions take place. The researchers from the University of Western Ontario sought to reveal how planning activity in the areas of the brain that are associated with reaching and grasping (the superior parietal cortex, middle intraparietal sulcus, and dorsal premotor cortex) indicated future movement.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which reveals blood flow within the brain, the researchers discovered that the brain’s grasping areas do indeed take more blood flow not only when acting, but also when considering whether or not to pick up an object. Interestingly, the blood-flow pattern changes depending on whether the subject intends to grasp the object by the top or bottom and whether she intends to turn it.
“It now seems clear that fMRI pattern analysis in humans can provide a new tool for capturing neural representations only previously detected with invasive electrode recordings in monkeys,” the researchers write.
“Neuroimaging allows us to look at how action planning unfolds within human brain areas without having to insert electrodes directly into the human brain. This is obviously far less intrusive,” says psychology professor Jody Culham, one of the study’s authors.
The finding follows previous studies on the relationship between planning and action in the brain. In a 2009 paper published in the journal Psychological Science, Washington University researcher Nicole Speer and her colleagues used fMRI to examine hemoglobin flow when people read fiction and discovered that the “readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative.” Specifically, when people read about a character grasping and holding an object, the area of the reader’s brain associated with those actions draws more blood. The brain regions that are activated “closely mirror those involved when people perform or imagine or observe similar real-world activities.”
These and similar breakthroughs could one day aid in the creation of better prosthetic devices that respond to and return signals to the brain more like actual limbs.
Source: “Decoding Action Intentions from Preparatory Brain Activity in Human Parieto-Frontal Networks” by Jason P. Gallivan et al. The Journal of Neuroscience (June 29, 2011).
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This is my last posting for the next few days. I will be taking my office apart so that we can move to our new apartment downtown next Tuesday. I will be unplugged and disconnected except by tablet. Expect me to be back in the saddle before the end of next week probably in time to provide you with some more headlines. In the interim these are the stories I share with you this week:
Today, literally thousands of alternative transportation vehicles are coming out of the woodwork and they nearly all have the same problem – no place to drive them. Most are banned from biking and hiking trails, and they are neither licensed, nor licensable, for use on the streets. I’d like to discuss some new possible solutions and why Colorado is poised to take the lead in the alternative transportation marketplace.
In a recent conference promoting not only their latest gizmos but their company's animating vision as well, Google executives declared they were working toward a future in which technology "disappears," "fades into the background," becomes more "intuitive and anticipatory." Commenting on this apparently "bizarre mission for a tech company," Bianca Bosker warns that their genial and enthusiastic promotional language masks Google's aspiration to omnipresence via invisibility, an effort to render us dependent and uncritical of their prevalence through its marketing as easy, intuitive, companionable.
Occasionally during meetings one of my staff – an avid birder – will elbow me and I’ll look up and glimpse a bald eagle. Each time, I am in awe. I live in Washington State, which is home to a plethora of eagles, where pods of Orca ply the waters near the San Juan Islands, and where roads are sometimes blocked by herds of elk.
In this month's Report on Business Magazine, a supplement that comes with The Globe and Mail, one of Canada's national newspapers, Stanford University's Mark Jacobson provides a best case scenario
According to The Hollywood Reporter, celebrity tech CEO Peter Thiel is upset that movies like The Matrix and Avatar make technological innovation seem "destructive and dysfunctional."
A team of researchers are asking the public to help them locate and count all the sources of CO2 coming from power plants on the planet.
Initial results from a selective breeding program at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany based in Cambridge in the UK, indicate the successful creation of a new super wheat.