Brain Scanners Can See Your Decisions Before You Make Them

Posted on April 15, 2008 

Brain Scanners Can See Your Decisions Before You Make Them

Brain scanner diagram

In a study published Sunday in Nature Neuroscience, researchers using brain scanners could predict people’s decisions seven seconds before the test subjects were even aware of making them.

The decision studied — whether to hit a button with one’s left or right hand — may not be representative of complicated choices that are more integrally tied to our sense of self-direction. Regardless, the findings raise profound questions about the nature of self and autonomy: How free is our will? Is conscious choice just an illusion?

Haynes updated a classic experiment by the late Benjamin Libet, who showed that a brain region involved in coordinating motor activity fired a fraction of a second before test subjects chose to push a button. Later studies supported Libet’s theory that subconscious activity preceded and determined conscious choice — but none found such a vast gap between a decision and the experience of making it as Haynes’ study has.

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