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drawing of human brain from Govard Bidloo's Dutch anatomical atlas, Ontleding des menschelyken lichaams

From Ontleding des menschelyken lichaams
By Govard Bidloo

fMRI

2007nov28

  1. Introduction

    This is a speculative discussion in which we express our opinion. There is much we do not know about fMRI.

  2. Feelings about leaders

    We guess that Germans, compared to some other nationalities (for example, Americans), generally have more favorable attitudes toward their political and governmental leaders. Our guess can be tested. A problem with testing by doing surveys is that respondents often do not tell surveyors the truth. There is a rich, scholarly literature about the falsehoods people say in response to survey questions. Moreover, some survey questions do not translate well between languages, reducing the value of comparison of countries with different languages. It is good to observe political attitudes of people without asking questions or obtaining answers.

    To compare Germans and Americans, for example, a researcher could examine samples of Germans and Americans. People in each sample could view, while undergoing brain fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), photographs and videos of major, political and governmental leaders of his country and locality. Reactions of various areas of the brain, to the photographs and videos looked at by the people in the samples, could be measured. Those reactions would reveal people's attitudes toward leaders. We guess that the 10% of people with the highest activity in the amygdala and insula (areas of the brain associated with anxiety, disgust, and other bad feelings) would have a disproportionately high percentage of Americans. We guess that the 10% of people with the highest activity in the medial orbital prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain that is associated with rewarding stimuli), the superior temporal sulcus (an area of the brain associated with empathy), and the inferior frontal cortex (another area of the brain associated with empathy) would have a disproportionately high percentage of Germans. This is an example of how fMRI could be used to see how people feel about leaders, and thus to compare the attitudes of people from different countries.

    FMRI research could be done to compare Americans' and Germans' attitudes to other kinds of leaders (not just political and governmental leaders) and to other kinds of people (not just to leaders). For example, one could compare two nationalities' reactions to photographs and videos of children playing in a playground, couples getting married, people of various races walking along a sidewalk, construction workers at a building site, patients in hospital beds, well-dressed people eating in elegant restaurants, and soldiers. FMRI is useful to compare political and social attitudes of people of different nationalities.

  3. Practical uses

    FMRI has other, potential applications. For example, employers sometimes assemble work teams. When choosing people to be on a team, it might be useful to know which employees stimulate each others' amygdala and insula (areas of the brain associated with anxiety, disgust, and other bad feelings), and which employees stimulate each others' medial orbital prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain associated with rewarding stimuli), the superior temporal sulcus (an area associated with empathy), and the inferior frontal cortex (another area associated with empathy). Maybe someone should not be made a supervisor of employees who respond to him with much disgust and anxiety.

    Some employers merely want an employee with narrowly defined, technical proficiency. For example, if an employer needs an accountant, the employer may be narrowly focused on whether the job applicant can do accounting work well. Some employers care about employees' emotions. For example, if a high school wants to hire a French teacher, the school may want more than someone who knows French well and can teach well. The school may want someone whose fMRI scans, in response to his viewing photographs and videos of high school students, show little activity in the amygdala and insula, and much activity in the medial orbital prefrontal cortex, superior temporal sulcus, and inferior frontal cortex. A high school doesn't have to take a job applicant's word for it that high school kids are a lot of fun.

    In employment settings (for example, when deciding who should work with whom, or who should be hired), fMRI observations of employees and applicants could be useful to consider with other information, not blindly followed.

    She loves me. She loves me not. If two people are in love with each other, their fMRI scans, in response to seeing photographs and videos of each other, probably would show much activity in the medial orbital prefrontal cortex (an area of the brain associated with rewarding stimuli), and might show high activity in the superior temporal sulcus (an area associated with empathy) and the inferior frontal cortex (another area associated with empathy).

    There is an area of the brain which becomes active when a person, in response to a question, says an answer which he prepared before he heard the question. FMRI can detect activity there. Consider a hypothetical murder investigation in which police know, but the public does not know, that the victim was killed with a golf club and that the killer seems to have been wearing golf shoes. FMRI shows that one of the suspects had an answer ready for a question about whether he plays golf.

  4. Close

    According to a 1 November 2009, article, "Psychic computer shows your thoughts on screen" (by Chris Gourlay, [London] Times Web site, from an article in The Sunday Times), two neurologists (Jack Gallant and Shinji Nishimoto of the University of California at Berkeley) discovered how to use fMRI to crudely read minds by scanning brain activity and reproducing images of what people see or even remember seeinging. For example, a person watches a video movie (movie one). A computer monitors the electrical activity of his visual cortex as he watches. The computer simultaneously makes a video movie (movie two) based on that electrical activity. Movie two's imagery crudely resembles movie one's. The system works well for scenes of talking heads. In one scene of the actor Steve Martin wearing a white shirt, the software recreated his rough shape and white torso but missed other details, such as his facial features. For a scene showing a plane flying towards the camera against a city skyline, the computer recreated the image of the skyline but omitted the plane.

    This is preliminary research involving a tiny sample. The research has neither been published in a peer-reviewed journal nor been replicated by other scientists. We guess that this system will be published, replicated, and improved much. John could look out of a window at various things. People in ten cities on a different continent could simultaneously see on video monitors what John sees. This system could be used to train employees. This is what our best pilots look at as they fly, what our best bus drivers look at as they drive. The article claims, without giving details, that the system can recreate imagery which people remember. The computer supposedly can crudely show on a video monitor what John remembers haveing seen. This could be used to investigate crime and shopping. Jane is asked by market researchers to visualize the box of rice on the supermarket shelf, the box she later put into her shopping cart. The video monitor shows sort of a rectangle of color with a small, black man on it. Uncle Ben's rice. We guess that the new, crude, fMRI system will be improved enough to be useful.

    Also according to Gourlay's article, scientists at University College London can detect, with an accuracy of about fifty percent, memories recalled by patients. His article does not say if fMRI is involved.

    At present, mere thoughts are not a crime. There must be some sort of act. In the future, when thoughts of many people will be detected well, people will be punished for thoughts.








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