You might think that your brain is a blank canvas and that you can only manipulate it with a bit of help.
But that’s not true, says Dr. Michael Pankratz, the founder of the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
He and his team at the Northwestern University have developed a way to use brain scans to change the way you see the world and change your emotional state.
That’s what Pankriotz and his research team are trying to do with their novel technique.
“In the past, we’ve been trying to use imaging to change our perception of the world, and that’s very useful for us, but it’s a very difficult thing to do,” Pankiotz says.
“The brain is like a giant, open book, so if we can get it to open up a little bit more, we can change our perceptions of the environment.”
In a recent study published in Science, Pankritz and other neuroscientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show that they can change the shape of the brain with just a single brain wave.
The researchers took a picture of the left side of the patient’s brain with a T1-weighted MRI scanner, and used that to control the intensity of the MRI wave they used to look at the brain.
Then they used a software program to generate brain waves for each person to play in a game of waltz.
The results were startling.
When the patient was playing in the game, the fMRI showed that the patient had more activation in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in emotion, compared with when the patient wasn’t playing.
That area was activated even more in people who were playing waltzes, compared to when the person was not playing.
When asked to identify the person playing the game and what they were playing, people who played the waltzed waltzin were more likely to identify and describe themselves as waltzing, and to say that they were feeling emotions.
“We have to take this whole new approach to understanding how the brain works,” Pash says.
And this new approach might not just help people waltze, but could even help doctors, too.
Pankrion, who is based at Northwestern, says the fMRIs he’s developing could be used to study people’s brains for their medical conditions, and could be applied to other areas of the body, such as the eye.
The research also suggests that it might be possible to turn the human brain into a machine that can perform different tasks, from playing games to making surgery.
“This could help us design new types of artificial brain that can mimic some of the cognitive abilities that we see in the human,” Praktiotz said.
But it’s not clear yet whether the technique could even be used for everyday tasks.
For example, Pash and Pankrainz aren’t looking to create a brain-machine interface.
Instead, they’re looking to help patients with Parkinson’s disease to become more creative.
“Our work has focused on how brain activity changes when the brain is altered by different tasks,” Pekratz said, “but our goal is to make a more general approach that we can use to help people with Parkinson to have more control over their lives.”
This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on October 18, 2018.