Mind Reading 101

John’s mother, Elizabeth, was always close with John’s 10-year old daughter, Anna. Before she Elizabeth diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, she lived in John’s home and watched Anna for years while John was at work. As Elizabeth’s disease progressed, spending time with her became difficult for Anna. There was no easy way to explain to Anna how and why her grandmother was acting so differently. Anna once told John that what hurt the most is that she doesn’t know if her grandmother remembers her, thinks about her, or still loves her.

Having a grandparent with Alzheimer’s can be a difficult time for a child. Since Elizabeth and Anna had such a close relationship, it is understandable that Anna may feel saddened and may even feel a sense of loss or grief over seeing her grandmother with such a devastating illness. What if there were a way to read Elizabeth’s mind and reassure Anna that she is still in her grandmother’s thoughts?  An astounding new study shows that reading a person’s mind may be possible. This could be a huge breakthrough for those with Alzheimer’s, non-verbal autism spectrum disorder, and others with mental illnesses.

The study, “Neural Portraits of Perception: Reconstructing Face Images From Evoked Brain Activity,” was published in NeuroImage, and was led by Marvin Chun, a professor of psychology, cognitive science, and neurobiology at Yale University, postdoctoral researcher Brice Kuhl, and Alan S. Cowen, who is pursuing an advanced psychology degree at UC Berkeley. They gathered 30 participants, whose brains were scanned while shown one of 300 photos of various faces of different ethnicities, skin colors, and facial expressions. It was not noted if any of the participants suffered from Alzheimer’s, autism, or any other mental disorders or illnesses.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology, the scientists recorded the participant’s brain-activation patterns of neural activity. Using these patterns, the scientists were able to generate successful reconstructions of the faces in sketch-like images. Of the 30 readings, the subject’s skin color was right every time while 24 of the readings correctly detected the presence or absence of a smile, and about half selected the correct hair color.”There’s definitely room for improvement,” researcher Alan S. Cowen told Fox News.

This study is the first to attempt facial reconstruction through thoughts. It is hoped that the process could one day assist in solving crimes, better understand mental disorders, and even recording dreams. “You can see how people perceive faces depending on different disorders, like autism — and use that to help diagnose therapies,” said Cowen.

As for the likelihood it could be used to extract memories, Cowen assures they’re still ways away from that. “This sort of technology can only read active parts of the brain. So you couldn’t read passive memories — you would have to get the person to imagine the memory to read it,” Cowen said.

Marvin Chun called the result “a form of mind-reading that captures and reflects the sophistication with which we visually process the human face. And because the program uses patterns of brain signals from regions quite separate from the visual cortex, it could probably reconstruct a face that is not actually seen but is instead remembered or dreamed.”

At the Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C. (, we are always intrigued by new and helpful research and hope this research can prove to be a breakthrough for those with autism and others with Alzheimer’s. For the family in our example, what we do know is that those with Alzheimer’s can feel for loved ones, even if they don’t recognize them. Please read our blog post about this topic. Please also read our post that offers helpful tips on how to talk to a child about Alzheimer’s.

Our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors and individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia by preserving dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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