Search Results for “fMRI”


fMRI: The New Lie Detector?

A new study, conducted by scientists at Stanford University, claims that machinery can be programmed to detect if a person is being truthful or deceptive.

The article, written by Tommy Sander and published on Monday September 13, 2010 in USC’s Neon Tommy news website, is interesting to say the least .

Machines already control or at least regulate much of our lives as it is today.  Are we ready to hand over, to a machine, determinations of the intimacies of the human mind?

Well, researchers in the psychology department at Stanford are trying to unlock the secrets of the mind.  They have begun working on extracting and understanding memories using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain.

Dr. Jesse Rissman and his research colleagues tested their theory in a study where participants were assessed on their ability to accurately recall a certain set of faces.  As the participants responded to the faces scientists simultaneously recorded their brain activity with an fMRI.  They used the scans to identify unique brain patterns which are associated with memory.

Basically, scientists are using a very high tech and expensive MRI for deep brain activity induced by memories.  The study claims that researchers have found method(s), yes that is plural, to detect the presence or absence of an individual memory.  That may sound like an impossible feat but with the pace of technological advances in the 21st century many impossible feats are coming to light as incredible innovations are being created. But does that necessarily equate to improvements?

The article claims that the fMRI scan can be helpful in determining the accuracy of legal testimonies in the future.  The article did not state how far into the future we have to wait until this can be perfected scientific evidence of truth telling.  However, in 2009 lawyers attempted to use fMRI data as evidence in a court of law but eventually withdrew their request.  This year a psychologist in Tennessee obtained evidence from another MRI truth verifying organization and submitted it to a court of law, but the judge refused to admit the evidence.  Judges refuse to admit such evidence for obvious reasons, which have been stated by Dr. Rissman himself.

Rissman acknowledges that the convoluted intricacies of the mind qualify all the data as unreliable.  In effect, the brain scans are only as accurate as a person’s memory.  Therefore, essentially all that was measured was a person’s belief that he/she had seen a particular face.  There are also other drawbacks to testing with fMRIs such as the machines ability to determine and account for the difference in explicit memories and implicit memories.

Is the way of the future to assign machines the ability to detect if a person is being truthful or delusive?  If so, how accurate can a machine be against the most powerful tool in the universe…the human mind?

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Perceptions of Fake and Legitimate Laughter


Courtesy of StockVault

Science World Report comments on a new study that purports that the human brain can distinguish between genuine and manufactured laughter.

In a paper entitled Individual Differences in Laughter Perception Reveal Roles for Mentalizing and Sensorimotor Systems in the Evaluation of Emotional Authenticity” published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, Dr. Carolyn McGettigan of Royal Holloway University of London makes the case that there is a link between the parts of the brain actively involved in laughter perception and the kind of laughter being perceived.

Two kinds of laughter were looked at in the study evoked laughter and emitted laughter.  Evoked (“real”) laughter was perceived as being more contagious, than Emitted (“fake”) laughter, and the two kinds of laughter (Evoked vs. Emitted, or “fake”) elicited responses in different areas of the brain when fMRI results are analyzed.

Furthermore, the behavioral post-test indicated that “participants were able to classify the laughs in “Real” and “Posed” categories with a high degree of accuracy.” This high degree of accuracy indicates that participants are aware of the differences in how their brains perceive the two varieties of laughter. Such awareness is essential to a person’s navigation of social cues. The study further analyzed the amount and the kind of brain activity that goes into recognizing Emitted (fake) laughter, “it is the social-emotional ambiguity of the Emitted laughter that leads to the stronger engagement of mentalizing processes.

In other words, our brains are working harder to distinguish the non-genuine laughter from its authentic counterpart. This causes humans to be more aware of their own responses when they are in the presence of laughter that they do not perceive as authentic.

Dr. McGettigan summarizes the researchers findings, Our brains are very sensitive to the social and emotional significance of laughter, which is the social glue that promotes and maintains affiliations and group memberships. During our study, when participants heard a laugh that was posed, they activated regions of the brain associated with mentalizing in an attempt to understand the other person’s emotional and mental state.

Separating the Liars from the Truth Tellers


Courtesy of StockVault

People tend to measure dishonesty by a person’s physical tells such as fidgeting, breathing rate, etc. Often times these tells coupled with the baseline of the individual and intuition leads us to be correct in our analysis when it is someone we know well.  However, these techniques including measuring blood pressure and pulse as in a polygraph, are not admissible as hard evidence of deception in any legal form.

It is for a good reason that these signs of anxiety are not reliable indicators of a person’s honesty. They can be a representation of nervousness or just how a person normally behaves.  Science has long tried to accurately map out lies from truths using technology and with the exponential growth of technology today, researchers can now delve into our brains.

Today researchers studying the brain and deception use a full body scanner that employs functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) technology to determine whether someone is fibbing by tracing blood flow to certain areas of the brain, which indicates changes in neuronal activity at the synapses (gaps between the neurons). If you’re using fMRI, the scanner is detecting a change in the magnetic properties in the blood, says Sean Spence, a professor of general adult psychiatry at the University of Sheffield in England.

Scientific American notes in their article about this research that hemoglobin molecules in red blood cells exhibit different magnetic properties depending on the amount of oxygen they contain. The most active brain regions use—and thereby contain—the most oxygen.

Spence goes on to note, When you know the answer to a question, the answer is automatic; but to avoid telling me the true answer requires something more.  Polygraph, or lie detector, tests are the most well-known method of discerning fact from fiction, but researchers say they are not reliable because they measure anxiety based on a subject’s pulse or breathing rate, which can easily be misread.They’re not detecting deception but rather the anxiety of being…[accused of deception], Spence says. It’s known that psychopaths have a reduced level of anxiety, that would allow them to fool a polygraph. The fMRI, he says, images the actual processes involved in deception.

The researchers had a unique opportunity to study a woman convicted of poisoning a child in her care.  This provided a stage for Spence and his colleagues to extend their, which until then had only been conducted on young, healthy university students as many studies of this sort do.

The team used an fMRI on Susan Hamilton of Edinburgh, Scotland, who was convicted of poisoning with salt a girl diagnosed with a terminal metabolic condition. Hamilton, who was in charge of feeding the child via a feeding tube that led directly into her stomach, was arrested after the girl was admitted to the hospital with massive blood sodium levels. The police testified that a syringe full of salt was found in Hamilton’s kitchen, but she denies any knowledge of it.  The woman was released from prison last year and has continued to search for ways to publicly prove her professed innocence.

The researchers scanned Hamilton four times; during each scan they grilled her about the poisoning. With the fMRI, Spence was able to see that she activated extensive regions of her frontal brain lobes and also took significantly longer to respond when agreeing with the cops’ account. The results did not prove her innocent, Spence says, but suggested that her brain was responding as if she were innocent.

Spence and his team acknowledge that the results might have been more accurate if he had first done a baseline study that included asking her more general questions unrelated to the charges. Unfortunately, TV is show biz and his time with her was limited.

Being able to study this lady pointed out problems with the technique, the researchers note,  There are a number of control studies we want to do.

Translating Nonverbals – CLE for Attorneys

Dr. Matsumoto recently gave a CLE workshop to the New Hampshire District Court. He is an expert in nonverbal behavior and reading people’s emotions in high-stakes situations.

Being able to read nonverbal communication signs is extremely important in many professions, but especially for attorneys.  Dr. Matsumoto and Humintell now specializes in teaching nonverbal communication techniques to lawyers for CLE credit in various states across the nation.

The New Hampshire Bar Association reports on this course and Dr. Matsumoto’s take on learning these techniques and implementing them in daily life.

This specific training seminar focused on training the 172 lawyers and judges in attendance how to recognize microexpressions: involuntary flashes – as quick as one-tenth of a second – of the seven universal expressions of emotion as they zip across human faces. Studies have shown that anger, sadness, happiness, disgust, surprise, fear, and contempt are universally expressed the same way on the human face, regardless of race, gender, culture or other factors. But, you have to watch closely:

They’re so quick that unless you train your eyes and your mind to see it, you don’t, Matsumoto said.  “And once you learn how to see it, you can’t turn it off.”

A microexpression isn’t proof that someone’s lying. When compared to a personality and behavior baseline, an unexpected microexpression is merely an indicator that the person has some deeper emotion about a particular topic. If the topic is relevant to your case, recognizing that deeper emotion can be useful in depositions, juror voir dire, mediation, or settlement negotiations. If the person happens to be your wife, this skill can be quite troubling.

I walk into a room and I know immediately if my wife is concerned about something, Matsumoto said. “For the first five years, it used to drive her nuts, but now she’s used to it… Now, it almost makes things easier, because she doesn’t have to wait for the right time to bring something up. I see it right away.”

Matsumoto’s new research is focused on how reading emotions might help predict future behavior. He’s studying how emotions work in terrorist groups and whether authorities can predict, based on how a person approaches a checkpoint, whether he or she is lying or carrying contraband. He’s using test subjects wired with biometric sensors – some who are carrying contraband and some who aren’t – to try to identify differences in the way they approach the checkpoint.

I believe there is a difference, but we haven’t found it yet, he said.

If you are a lawyer and are interested in taking a microexpressions course for CLE credit, please contact us at (Our online course is also CLE certified in IL, NH, DE, NY, OR, ND, WV & SC)

Emotions & Meditation

A recent study that focused on compassion found that meditation can actually boost a person’s ability to read other people’s facial expressions.

Lead author Jennifer Mascaro of Emory University in the US state of Georgia stated, “It’s an intriguing result, suggesting that a behavioral intervention could enhance a key aspect of empathy.”

The New York Daily News goes on to report that the meditation program called Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, developed by Lobsang Tenzin Negi, was directly taken from Tibetan Buddhist practices.   This training has been shown to activate regions in the brain that help us be more empathetic.

The results were based off  fMRI brain scans of participants while completing a version of a facial expression test called the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET), which consists of black-and-white photographs that feature only the eyes of people making various expressions.

The meditation group showed much improvement on their Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET) over the control group after their mediation practice sessions.

“The idea is that the feelings we have about people can be trained in optimal ways.  CBCT aims to condition one’s mind to recognize how we are all inter-dependent, and that everybody desires to be happy and free from suffering at a deep level,” Negi purported.

In a similar article by Science Daily meditation improved emotional behaviors in teachers.  The findings suggest that schoolteachers who underwent a short but intensive program of meditation were less depressed, anxious or stressed — and more compassionate and aware of others’ feelings,.

The study was led by UCSF and  blended ancient meditation practices with the most current scientific methods for regulating emotions.

“The findings suggest that increased awareness of mental processes can influence emotional behavior…The study is particularly important because opportunities for reflection and contemplation seem to be fading in our fast-paced, technology-driven culture,” said lead author Margaret Kemeny, PhD, director of the Health Psychology Program in UCSF’s Department of Psychiatry.

Do you have any experience with meditation?   How about some meditation tips?  

Share them with the Humintell Community 


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