A new imaging study has given us insights into how brain scanning technology really works
So much pseudoscience has surrounded all of the “neuro hype” of using fMRI to measure all sorts of things. And the Guardian nailed it with their story. So let’s break that down:
The research, led by Professor Brian Trecox and a team of international researchers
Trecox unscrambled = CORTEX
used a brand new technique to assess fluctuations in the performance of brain scanners as they were being used during a series of basic experiments
So fMRI scanners were being scanned while doing basic experiments!
“Most people think that we know a lot about how MRI scanners actually work. The truth is, we don’t,” says Trecox. “We’ve even been misleading the public about the name – we made up functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging in 1983 because it sounded scientific and technical. fMRI really stands for flashy, Magically Rendered Images. So we thought: why not put an MRI scanner in an MRI scanner, and figure out what’s going on inside?”
fMRI = Flashy Magically Rendered Images!
We don’t know how it works, so why not scan it!
funds from a Kickstarter campaign and a local bake sale
If only we could get enough funds from such sources…
one of the largest and most robust neuroscience studies of its type.
“We tested six different MRI scanners,” says Eric Salmon
One of the most robust being an n=6… And performed by Eric Salmon… a nod to the infamous dead fish fMRI study!
We found activation in an area called insular cortex in four of the six machines… the insular cortex has previously been implicated in a wide range of functions, including consciousness and self-awareness. According to Trecox and his team, activation in this area has never been found in imaging machines before. While Salmon acknowledged that the results should be treated with caution – research assistants were found asleep in at least two of the machines – the results nevertheless provide a potentially huge step in our understanding of the tools we use to research the brain.
Oh the insular cortex… they are always trying to link it up to something in the fMRI studies.
“They just used felt tip pens to highlight and extend the areas they were interested in,” he alleges, adding that he would never colour outside the lines.
This is said by a Professor Stephen Magenter.. which I’m sure is clever in some way I can’t figure out… but the idea that his criticism is that the coloring with pens is okay, but outside the lines is the problem!
And the response!
Salmon says that this study was one of the most advanced of its kind. “All of our analyses were digital,” he notes. “We used MS paint wherever possible.”
It’s true, the pretty pictures you see in an fMRI study are not an actual picture of what is going on in the brain. The scientists add color to create a ‘heat map’ of sorts of activity.
And of course, the conclusion is that there is a need for further research:
“If there’s a possibility that MRI machines are showing some sort of rudimentary self-awareness, then we really need to explore this further,” says Trecox. He adds: “One way to do this is to look at what’s happening in our giant scanner, and for that, we’re going to need a bigger machine.”
We’ll need a bigger scanner to test our bigger scanner and so on.