Two Brains, One MRI Scanner

The New Scientist reported that Ray Lee of Princeton has developed the first dual-headed fMRI scanner.1 Up until now these machines had been unable to handle more than one brain at a time. And for reasons that I don’t understand (because I don’t understand the technology), they cannot synchronize two or more scanners to scan different individuals at the same time. Although they can scan people in different machines and link them by video. But Lee has designed his scanner that scans two brains at the same time in the same scanner.

In one of the first tests, Lee asked couples to face each other and to blink in unison. The fusiform gyrus, which is involved in facial recognition, was tightly correlated in the two brains. He also had couples embrace, which revealed similar synchronous brain activity.

James Coan of the University of Virginia has some interesting ideas on how to use this device. He notes that “People distribute neural processing across multiple brains when solving problems. …You essential contract out part of a given problem to someone else’s mind. Lee’s work would give us the opportunity to see two brains reacting to a problem simultaneously.” Using the terminology of the Healthymemory Blog, this activity involves transactive memory, memories that are stored in someone else’s brain.

Many of our activities involve, either implicitly or explicitly, transactive memory. When you are trying to communicate with somebody or some group, successful communication requires that the material be pitched at the appropriate level. This entails knowing something about what the other party(ies) knows. When you are trying to persuade somebody, it is extremely helpful to know what that person knows and believes. And it games, you are constantly trying to decipher what the other person is thinking. Transactive memory is a big player in many activities.

1Ferris jabr (2011). At last, an MRI scanner for the man with two brains. New Scientist, 29 January, 12. 

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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