13 Mar 2010

Scientists 'read' people's memories in brain activity

2:03 pm on 13 March 2010

A group of British scientists say they have developed a computer programme that can read people's memories by looking at their brain activity.

They say the programme can examine what is termed episodic memory - the remembrance of personal experiences.

The BBC reports that the University College London researchers showed people film clips and were able to predict which ones they were subsequently thinking about.

The authors of the research, published in Current Biology, hope the findings will ultimately contribute to development of treatments for memory loss.

Their study builds on a previous discovery by the same team that they could tell where a person was standing in a virtual reality room using a brain scan.

Volunteers placed inside MRI scanner

They asked 10 volunteers to watch three short film clips of people doing everyday activities such as posting a letter or throwing a coffee cup in a bin.

The volunteers were then asked to remember each of the films in turn while inside a specialist MRI scanner, which recorded brain activity that was then studied by a computer programme.

The researchers found that in subsequent scanning sessions, the computer algorithm could predict which film the volunteers were thinking about from the pattern of their brain activity.

They say it's the first time that brain scans had been used to distinguish between memories of past events.