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Brain Scan Technology May Have Significant Limitations. What Are Potential Solutions?




A picture of a human brain taken by a positron emission tomography scanner, also called PET scan, is seen on a screen on January 9, 2019, at the Regional and University Hospital Center of Brest (CRHU - Centre Hospitalier Régional et Universitaire de Brest), western France.
A picture of a human brain taken by a positron emission tomography scanner, also called PET scan, is seen on a screen on January 9, 2019, at the Regional and University Hospital Center of Brest (CRHU - Centre Hospitalier Régional et Universitaire de Brest), western France.
FRED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images

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Brain scans offer a tantalizing glimpse into the mind’s mysteries, promising an almost X-ray-like vision into how we feel pain, interpret faces and wiggle fingers.

Studies of brain images have suggested that Republicans and Democrats have visibly different thinking, that overweight adults have stronger responses to pictures of food and that it’s possible to predict a sober person’s likelihood of relapse. But such buzzy findings are coming under growing scrutiny as scientists grapple with the fact that some brain scan research doesn’t seem to hold up. Such studies have been criticized for relying on too few subjects and for incorrectly analyzing or interpreting data. Researchers have also realized a person’s brain scan results can differ from day to day — even under identical conditions — casting a doubt on how to document consistent patterns. The research being re-examined relies on a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. With so many questions being raised, some researchers are acknowledging the scans’ limitations and working to overcome them or simply turning to other tests. Today on AirTalk, we discuss the challenges that exist with fMRI and what potential solutions could be considered to increase reliability. Do you have questions? Join the conversation by calling 866-893-5722. 

With files from the Associated Press 

Guests: 

Russ Poldrack, professor of psychology at Stanford University; he tweets @russpoldrack

Emily Finn, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College; she tweets @esfinn