Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Researchers Can Read Thoughts To Decipher What A Person Is Actually Seeing

Date:
December 11, 2007
Source:
University of Leicester
Summary:
Following ground-breaking research showing that neurons in the human brain respond in an abstract manner to particular individuals or objects, researchers have now discovered that, from the firing of this type of neuron, they can tell what a person is actually seeing. The original research showed that one neuron fired to, for instance, Jennifer Aniston, another one to Halle Berry, another one to the Sydney Opera House, etc.

Image of neurons. Researchers found that four spikes of a few neurons are enough to identify what a person is seeing.
Credit: iStockphoto

Following ground-breaking research showing that neurons in the human brain respond in an abstract manner to particular individuals or objects, University of Leicester researchers have now discovered that, from the firing of this type of neuron, they can tell what a person is actually seeing.

Related Articles


The original research by Dr R Quian Quiroga, of the University’s Department of Engineering, showed that one neuron fired to, for instance, Jennifer Aniston, another one to Halle Berry, another one to the Sydney Opera House, etc.

The responses were abstract. For example, the neuron firing to Halle Berry responded to several different pictures of her and even to the letters of her name, but not to other people or names.

This result, published in Nature in 2005 came from data from patients suffering from epilepsy. As candidates for epilepsy surgery, they are implanted with intracranial electrodes to determine as accurately as possible the area where the seizures originate. From that, clinicians can evaluate the potential outcome of curative surgery.

Dr Quian Quiroga’s latest research, which has appeared in the Journal of Neurophysiology, follows on from this.

Dr Quian Quiroga explained: “For example, if the 'Jennifer Aniston neuron' increases its firing then we can predict that the subject is seeing Jennifer Aniston. If the 'Halle Berry neuron' fires, then we can predict that the subject is seeing Halle Berry, and so on.

“To do this, we used and optimised a 'decoding algorithms', which is a mathematical method to infer the stimulus from the neuronal firing. We also needed to optimise our recording and data processing tools to record simultaneously from as many neurons as possible. Currently we are able to record simultaneously from up to 100 neurons in the human brain.

“In these experiments we presented a large database of pictures, and discovered that we can predict what picture the subject is seeing far above chance. So, in simple words, we can read the human thought from the neuronal activity.

“Once we reached this point, we then asked what are the most fundamental features of the neuronal firing that allowed us to make this predictions. This gave us the chance of studying basic principles of neural coding; i.e. how information is stored by neurons in the brain.

“For example, we found that there is a very limited time window in the neuronal firing that contains most of the information used for such predictions. Interestingly, neurons fired only 4 spikes in average during this time window. So, in another words, only 4 spikes of a few neurons are already telling us what the patient is seeing.”

Potential applications of this discovery include the development of Neural Prosthetic devices to be used by paralysed patients or amputees. A patient with a lesion in the spinal cord (as with the late Christopher Reeves), can still think about reaching a cup of tea with his arm, but this order is not transmitted to the muscles.

The idea of Neural Prostheses is to read these commands directly from the brain and transmit them to bionic devices such as a robotic arm that the patient could control directly from the brain.

Dr Quian Quiroga’s work showing that it is possible to read signals from the brain is a good step forward in this direction. But there are still clinical and ethical issues that have to be resolved before Neural Prosthetic devices can be applied in humans.

In particular, these would involve invasive surgery, which would have to be justified by a clear improvement for the patient before it could be undertaken.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Leicester. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Leicester. "Researchers Can Read Thoughts To Decipher What A Person Is Actually Seeing." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 December 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071206222634.htm>.
University of Leicester. (2007, December 11). Researchers Can Read Thoughts To Decipher What A Person Is Actually Seeing. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071206222634.htm
University of Leicester. "Researchers Can Read Thoughts To Decipher What A Person Is Actually Seeing." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071206222634.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

AP (Oct. 28, 2014) Moms and Dads get a more hands-on approach to parenting with tech-centric products for raising their little ones. (Oct. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Newsy (Oct. 27, 2014) Researchers have come up with another reason why dark chocolate is good for your health. A substance in the treat can reportedly help with memory. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

AFP (Oct. 27, 2014) Coding has become compulsory for children as young as five in schools across the UK. Making it the first major world economy to overhaul its IT teaching and put programming at its core. Duration: 02:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins