Mind-reading is right up there as one of the most desired superpowers, but scientific experiments to test people for their telepathic abilities have turned up with mixed results. That may soon change, however. University of Washington researchers have recently devised a mind-reading experiment of sorts that has demonstrated impressive success, reports NBC News.
This isn't mind-reading in the traditional sense. No fortune-tellers or psychics were recruited for this study. Rather, researchers set up a brain-to-brain connection between two people over the internet with the help of EEG (electroencephalographs) and a big magnet. Though subjects could only send simple responses to one another, they still interpreted the correct response 72 percent of the time-- significantly better than chance.
"This is the most complex brain-to-brain experiment, I think, that's been done to date in humans," said Andrea Stocco, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington.
"They have to interpret something they're seeing with their brains," added Stocco's colleague, Chantel Prat. "It's not something they've ever seen before."
The test worked like a nuanced version of 20 questions, a game that would be effortless to any true psychic. The catch was that neither the questioner nor the respondent could respond verbally to one another, or communicate in any directly physical way. In fact, the two participants were not even in the same room together. They were each in a different lab a mile away from one another, their only connection being their brain hookups over the internet.
The respondent, the one that knew the answer to the game and had to respond to the questioner's inquiries, was hooked up to an EEG and could only transmit a response by looking at either a "yes" or "no" flashing light on a computer screen. That information was then transmitted to a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) device attached to the back of the head of the questioner.
A "yes" answer would elicit a strong TMS pulse, which creates a signal perceived by the brain as a pulse, a blob or a line called a phosphene. A "no" answer was a weaker signal. The questioner had to interpret the respondent's answer in this way.
Transmitting these kinds of binary signals might seem too simple to be considered mind-reading, but researchers say this is just the first step. Future experiments will attempt to transmit brain states such as 'awake,' or 'relaxed,' for instance.
The research raises questions about just how private our inner thoughts really are. No matter how much we may think our inner thoughts are secret, some physical process exists that can be measured, which can potentially betray them.
You can view a video about the experiment here: