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Researchers can predict future actions from human brain activity

Date:
June 30, 2011
Source:
University of Western Ontario
Summary:
Bringing the real world into the brain scanner, researchers can now determine the action a person was planning, mere moments before that action is actually executed.

A volunteer completes tasks while in the functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) machine. This research project focuses on understanding how the human brain plans actions.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Western Ontario

Bringing the real world into the brain scanner, researchers at The University of Western Ontario from The Centre for Brain and Mind can now determine the action a person was planning, mere moments before that action is actually executed.

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The findings were published this week in the Journal of Neuroscience.

"This is a considerable step forward in our understanding of how the human brain plans actions," says Jason Gallivan, a Western Neuroscience PhD student, who was the first author on the paper.

Over the course of the one-year study, human subjects had their brain activity scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they performed one of three hand movements: grasping the top of an object, grasping the bottom of the object, or simply reaching out and touching the object. The team found that by using the signals from many brain regions, they could predict, better than chance, which of the actions the volunteer was merely intending to do, seconds later.

"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," explains Western Psychology professor Jody Culham, who was the paper's senior author.

Gallivan says the new findings could also have important clinical implications: "Being able to predict a human's desired movements using brain signals takes us one step closer to using those signals to control prosthetic limbs in movement-impaired patient populations, like those who suffer from spinal cord injuries or locked-in syndrome."

This research is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). A past recipient of the CIHR Brain Star Award, Gallivan is funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) graduate scholarship.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. J. P. Gallivan, D. A. McLean, K. F. Valyear, C. E. Pettypiece, J. C. Culham. Decoding Action Intentions from Preparatory Brain Activity in Human Parieto-Frontal Networks. Journal of Neuroscience, 2011; 31 (26): 9599 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0080-11.2011

Cite This Page:

University of Western Ontario. "Researchers can predict future actions from human brain activity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 June 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110629171228.htm>.
University of Western Ontario. (2011, June 30). Researchers can predict future actions from human brain activity. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110629171228.htm
University of Western Ontario. "Researchers can predict future actions from human brain activity." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110629171228.htm (accessed February 27, 2015).

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