Entries in Brain Development (2)


Scientists Found A Way To See Through Another Person's Eyes

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BERKELEY) -- Researchers from UC Berkeley were able to reconstruct YouTube videos from viewers' brain activity -- a feat that might one day offer a glimpse into our dreams, memories and even fantasies.
"This is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery," said Jack Gallant, professor of psychology and coauthor of a study published in Current Biology. "We are opening a window into the movies in our minds."

Gallant's coauthors acted as study subjects, watching YouTube videos inside a magnetic resonance imaging machine for several hours at a time. The team then used the brain imaging data to develop a computer model that matched features of the videos -- like colors, shapes and movements -- with patterns of brain activity.

"Once we had this model built, we could read brain activity for that subject and run it backwards through the model to try to uncover what the viewer saw," said Gallant.

Subtle changes in blood flow to visual areas of the brain, measured by functional MRI, predicted what was on the screen at the time -- whether it was Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau or an airplane. The reconstructed videos are blurry because they layer all the YouTube clips that matched the subject's brain activity pattern. The result is a haunting, almost dream-like version of the video as seen by the mind's eye.

The researchers say the technology could one day be used to broadcast imagery -- the scenes that play out inside our minds independent from vision.

The brain activity measured in this study is just a fraction of the activity that lets us see moving images. Other, more complex areas help us interpret the content of those images -- distinguish faces from lifeless objects, for example.  

Whether the technology could also be used to watch people's dreams or memories -- even intentions -- depends on how close those abstract visual experiences are to the real thing.

"We simply don't know at this point. But it's our next line of research," said Gallant.

If the technology could be used to broadcast imagery, it could one day allow people who are paralyzed to control their environment by imagining sequences of movements. Already, brain waves recorded through electrodes on the scalp can flip a switch, allowing people with Lou Gehrig's disease and other paralyzing conditions to choose letters on a computer monitor and communicate.

Gallant and his team are often asked whether the technology could be used in detective work or court cases -- an idea that brings to mind the futuristic crime-foiling action in Minority Report.

But the potential to watch a person's memories may not be so far off. Whether such memories could be used in a court of law, however, would be limited not only by the technology but also the nature of memories. After all, Gallant's website reads, an accurate read-out of a faulty memory only provides misleading information.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Prenatal Pesticide Exposure Linked to Low IQ Later in Life

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Expectant mothers exposed to agricultural chemicals could be putting their babies' cognitive development at risk, according to new research published Thursday as three independent studies in Environmental Health Perspectives.

The latest research links prenatal pesticide exposure (measured in the urine of mothers-to-be) to a lower IQ in children by age nine.  The research teams, from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the school of public health at the University of California, Berkeley, all conclude that pesticide exposure during pregnancy could negatively affect brain development.

But a lack of controlled trials, for obvious reasons, makes it impossible to determine whether there is cause and effect.

"The biggest problem with these studies is they attempt to demonstrate an association when there has not yet been a mechanism identified that would explain how pesticides cause any of the abnormalities," said Dr. Donna Seger, associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and director of the Tennessee Poison Center.  "Because pesticide exposure and abnormal developmental occur in a specific patient population does not mean that one caused the other."

So-called "association studies" infuriate Ali Bergstrom -- a 34-year-old New York City-based blogger whose son was born with a rare birth defect called Goldenhar syndrome -- who said it's devastating to have a child who is disabled because of something that happened in the womb.

"When these studies come out and they say it's association and not cause and effect, it's very frustrating as a mother because I know something caused this.  It infuriates me."

But the three studies, which used different subjects and methods but arrived at similar conclusions, should raise a red flag that widely-used chemicals may have serious health consequences for unborn babies, according to Dr. Rodney Dietert, professor of immunotoxicology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

"Taken together, these studies are an alarm that signals we have underestimated the risk from low level prenatal exposures to certain environmental chemicals," Dietert said.  "It seems clear that our current methods and applications for identifying environmental risks posed to critical physiological systems of children are inadequate."

Dietert is pushing for better safety testing to avoid surprises, such as the findings reported Thursday, years down the road.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio