The Power of Brain Scans

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It has only been a few decades since scientists have been able to begin to understand the inner workings of the human brain. But now the increasing sophistication of brain scans is enabling researchers to observe the brain as it’s functioning. While scientists caution against drawing absolute conclusions about behavior based on scans, the images have become a key tool of neuroscience.


They may help predict best depression treatment

A recent study from the National Institutes of Health concluded that a brain scan can determine which depression treatment option will best suit each patient.  According to the researchers, doctors, by analyzing brain activity through a PET scan, would be able to see if cognitive behavioral therapy or medication will be more effective for a particular patient.


They can help analyze emotions

In a 2013 study from the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Ghent University, researchers found that different areas of the brain are activated when we choose to suppress certain emotions, compared to when we are instructed to inhibit an emotion.  The study found that key brain systems were activated when exhibiting emotional self-control as opposed to responding emotionally.  The results can help explain how people regulate emotions.


They can help objectively measure pain

How can one person explain to another how much pain he or she is in?  Using functional MRI scans of the brain, scientists can now "see" pain and use it as a means to explain the intensity of pain to doctors.  Rather than using a subjective scale – often 1 to 10 – doctors can use a brain scan to gain a more definitive and objective evaluation of pain.


They may be able to help to predict criminal behavior

A new study claims to have found a way to predict criminal behavior.  They use neuroimaging data that can predict the likelihood of whether a criminal will commit crimes after a release from prison.  Brain scans show that some inmates have low anterior cingulated activity – which is the part of the brain is associated with error processing, conflict, monitoring, response selection and avoidance learning.


Brain changes linked to mental illness risks

A recent study found that brain changes linked to common gene variants associated with Alzheimer's, schizophrenia and autism can be seen in brain scans of newborns.  Using MRI scans shortly after birth, researchers were able to identify 10 common variation on seven genes that have been linked to brain structure in adults.


Brain scans can help decode dreams

Scientists found that brain scans helped them decode the visual content of peoples' dreams as they slept.  Using functional MRI scans, the researchers implemented a technique called neural decoding, which infers specific contents of those visual experiences from patterns of brain activity.  The researchers think that dreaming and perception share common brain circuits.