How close are we to predicting people's choices by looking at their brains?

Can we use neuroscience to peer inside the brain?
04 April 2017



How close are we to predicting people's choices by looking at their brains?


Can we read minds? Philipe Bujold answered Elaine's question...

Philipe - The short answer is we are still very, very far from it. The long answer same thing - we are very far from this. The reason is quite simple: studying  decision making is quite a recent process, especially in neuroscience, so we’ve only been looking at in depth for the last twenty, thirty, forty years.

We have an idea of ‘where’ things are happening but not ‘what’ is happening specifically. Let’s say the middle of your brain will be evaluating certain components of decision choices, so let’s say you need to choose between apples and pears. What is the value of apples; what is the value of pears? Then the front of the brain seems to be putting that into context, so the area right over your eyes which we call the orbitofrontal cortex. Then something happens under your forehead where choice, we think, happens and then something happens in the back. But, as you can see, we don’t really know unfortunately.

Chris - So it’s a really precise art then?

Philipe - Exactly. Well, that’s neuroscience unfortunately - it’s still budding. We think we know where things are happening but we can’t be certain.

Chris - But more specifically, if I were to sit in a brain scanner and think of certain things, could you on the basis of the pattern of activity in my brain when you show me pictures of trucks, know if you looked at my brain later when I was just randomly thinking about things and say, aha look, there was definitely a mental image of a truck going by there, or he’s thing about a person and a face? Could you do that?

Philipe - Unfortunately, unless you’re looking at very, very precise conditions, we are still not at that level.  What we can do, however, is use economics and psychology and there are some reliable biases that we all have on average. So let’s say I am to promise you £3, you’d be very happy. If I promised you £5 and give you £3, which is the exact same amount, you’d be very upset. It’s the same thing but I can predict how you will feel because of that.

There is also things like probabilities. For some reason, humans seem to overvalue low ends so that’s why we pay the lottery; that’s why we get insurance for some very rare event. We know we do that kind of stuff and we can predict reliably what people will do, but that’s mostly economics and psychology.  What we try to do is see cellularly what is happening and why it happens.


Add a comment