Scientists decode brain activity of monkeys

July 22nd, 2012 - 3:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 22 (IANS) Scientists were able to “see” that two monkeys were planning to tackle the same task differently, even before they moved a muscle, thanks to a decoding of their brain activity.

Anyone looking at the zigzag recording of the electrical activity of a single neuron in the brain must have wondered how any useful information could be extracted from such a frazzled signal.

Scientists at Washington University, St. Louis, who were decoding brain activity while monkeys reached around an obstacle to touch a target, have made two remarkable discoveries, the journal Science reports.

Their first was one they had designed their experiment to achieve. Their second result, however, was a complete surprise, allowing the scientists, in effect, to read the monkeys’ minds, according to a Washington statement.

By chance, the two monkeys chosen for the study had completely different styles. One was a hyperactive type, who kept jumping the gun, and the other was a smooth operator, who waited for the entire setup to be revealed before planning his next move. The difference was clearly visible in their decoded brain activity.

Daniel Moran, associate professor of biomedical engineering at the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, said the monkey needs three pieces of information: current hand and target position and the velocity vector that the hand will follow.

In other words, the monkey needs to know where his hand is, what direction it is headed and where he eventually wants it to go.

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