Seminar Series

Decoding conscious and unconscious mental states from brain activity in humans

Recent advances in human neuroimaging have shown that it is possible to accurately read out a person's conscious experience based only on non-invasive fMRI measurements of their brain activity. This "brain reading" is possible because each thought is associated with a unique pattern of brain activity that can serve as a "fingerprint" of this thought in the brain. By training a computer to recognize these fMRI "thought patterns" it is possible to read out what someone is currently thinking with high accuracy. Here several studies from our lab will be presented that include comparisons of neural and perceptual information, unconscious information processing, decoding of timecourses of perception, as well as decoding of high-level mental states. This will show that it is possible to read out a person's concealed intentions and even to predict how someone is going to decide a few seconds later. Finally, the talk will discuss fundamental challenges and limitations of the field, along with the ethical question if such methods might one day be a danger to our mental privacy.