Mind Reading Machine on the Way? Perhaps not quite yet.

Current research on brain activity has lead to exciting new discoveries that may one day, for example, allow a stroke patient, rendered mute, to communicate through passive thinking. Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine used a novel method of monitoring a region of the brain called the intraparietal sulcus (IPS), known to be important in perceptual motor coordination and visual attention.

According to a Stanford School of Medicine news release, this new method, called intracranial recording, involves temporarily removing a portion of a patient’s skull and placing electrodes directly on the surface of the brain. The technique is known as electrocorticography (ECoG) and it allows for precise and detailed measurements that can’t be accomplished with other methods such as EEG. The ECoG is used in clinical settings prior to surgery to identify the origin of seizures.

The Stanford research team engaged three participants who were being evaluated for chronic, drug-resistant epileptic seizures. The patients were hooked up to monitoring equipment and were confined to bed for up to a week, but in no pain and able to eat, drink, talk, or watch television while their brain activity was being recorded.

What is significant in this study is that the research team monitored brain activity while people were engaged in real-life situations. Previous studies used techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine brain activity, but lying motionless in a dark, tubular chamber that emits loud banging noises doesn’t constitute a natural environment.

“This is not real life,” said Josef Parvizi, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences and director of Stanford’s Human Intracranial Cognitive Electrophysiology Program. “You’re not in your room, having a cup of tea and experiencing life’s events spontaneously.” Consistent with other studies, Parvizi’s team discovered that electrical activity in a particular group of cells in the IPS spiked when, and only when, participants were performing calculations or using quantitative references such as “more than,” or “many.”

Researchers were able to study patients in their hospital rooms, monitoring their brain activity while the participants responded to math-related questions on a computer. While some believe that these discoveries may lead to “mind control,” Parizi trusts that these fears are premature. “We’re still in the early days with this,” he said. “If this is a baseball game, we’re not even in the first inning. We just got a ticket to enter the stadium.”

For further reading, check out the research article in Nature Communications.

Click here to watch a video clip of subjects talking about various topics and see simultaneous traces where their brain waves indicate numerical thinking.