News: Can a brain scan predict your future?

Just when you thought you were a wild card who lived for spontaneity and made all your decisions on the


Just when you thought you were a wild card who lived for spontaneity and made all your decisions on the fly, along comes science to dub you Captain Predictable. In a recent study, neuroscientists at UCLA have shown that, using a brain scan, they can predict a person’s behaviour over a one-week period better than the person himself.

"There is a very long history within psychology of people not being very good judges of what they will actually do in a future situation," said Matthew Lieberman, the study’s senior author, in a news release. "Many people ‘decide’ to do things but then don’t do them."

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, involved 10 men and 10 women who did not use sunscreen daily. Participants were shown public service announcements while having their brains scanned using an fMRI, which shows activity in different regions of the brain. The scan focused on the part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex’the area associated with our likes and dislikes, as well as our desires and motivations. After being scanned, the participants were asked about their plans to use sunscreen in the following week. A week later, researchers followed up to see how often they had actually used sunscreen.

"From this region of the brain, we can predict for about three-quarters of the people whether they will increase their use of sunscreen beyond what they say they will do," Lieberman said, in a news release. "If you just go by what people say they will do, you get fewer than half of the people accurately predicted, and using this brain region, we could do significantly better."

Ah, the power of persuasion.

Researchers noted that the results of this study may have implications for public health organizations, as well as advertisers. However, they also hope to be able to apply it to other areas, such as education and health.

"There is still much we do not know about how to get people to make healthier choices," said lead author, Emily Falk, in a news release. "We hope to learn much more about what makes messages more or less persuasive."

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