Many people have endured the noisy, and somewhat claustrophobic experience of a conventional MRI scan. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is very similar, except its scans reveal changes in bloodflow. When used to study the brain, it shows when an area becomes more active due to the increased flow of oxygenated blood. Once the only way scientists could study the brain was in a postmortem. Now fMRI is a key tool in neuroscience, offering an unparalleled view of the brain in action, providing insights into “our most basic emotions, motivations and behaviours”, as well as conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.
This book takes us on “a whistle-stop tour through some of the most exciting scientific studies”. The science and technology are still evolving but researchers have already used fMRI scans, analysed by a computer, to reconstruct a film clip watched by subjects. It was “blurry and not very detailed” but still remarkable. Other experiments include attempts to read dreams, and to detect social biases such as racism and sexism; in one study, researchers achieved a 100% success rate in detecting lies. However they also showed that it was relatively easy to trick the technology: “even the most accurate computer model can be fooled”. From what fMRI scans tell us about free will, to how “neuromarketing” reveals what consumers really think about brands, this is a fascinating guide to neuroimaging and the wonders of one of the most complex structures in the universe: our brain. • Sex, Lies & Brain Scans: How fMRI Reveals What Really Goes on in Our Minds by Barbara J Sahakian and Julia Gottwald is published by Oxford (£9.99). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Free UK p&p over £15.