Can brain scans uncover lies?

brainscan2Wow. Mind Hacks is right. A great article from the New Yorker on fMRI and deception detection. Here’s a little snippet but as the article is freely available online you should really head on over there and read the whole thing:

To date, there have been only a dozen or so peer-reviewed studies that attempt to catch lies with fMRI technology, and most of them involved fewer than twenty people. Nevertheless, the idea has inspired a torrent of media attention, because scientific studies involving brain scans dazzle people, and because mind reading by machine is a beloved science-fiction trope, revived most recently in movies like “Minority Report” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Many journalistic accounts of the new technology—accompanied by colorful bitmapped images of the brain in action—resemble science fiction themselves.

And later, commenting on University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist Daniel Langleben’s studies that kicked off the current fMRI-to-detect-deception craze:

Nearly all the volunteers for Langleben’s studies were Penn students or members of the academic community. There were no sociopaths or psychopaths; no one on antidepressants or other psychiatric medication; no one addicted to alcohol or drugs; no one with a criminal record; no one mentally retarded. These allegedly seminal studies look exclusively at unproblematic, intelligent people who were instructed to lie about trivial matters in which they had little stake. An incentive of twenty dollars can hardly be compared with, say, your freedom, reputation, children, or marriage—any or all of which might be at risk in an actual lie-detection scenario.

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Photo credit: killermonkeys, Creative Commons License

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