Reading Hidden Intentions in the Human Brain

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.
Current Biology (Impact Factor: 9.57). 03/2007; 17(4):323-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.11.072
Source: PubMed


When humans are engaged in goal-related processing, activity in prefrontal cortex is increased. However, it has remained unclear whether this prefrontal activity encodes a subject's current intention. Instead, increased levels of activity could reflect preparation of motor responses, holding in mind a set of potential choices, tracking the memory of previous responses, or general processes related to establishing a new task set. Here we study subjects who freely decided which of two tasks to perform and covertly held onto an intention during a variable delay. Only after this delay did they perform the chosen task and indicate which task they had prepared. We demonstrate that during the delay, it is possible to decode from activity in medial and lateral regions of prefrontal cortex which of two tasks the subjects were covertly intending to perform. This suggests that covert goals can be represented by distributed patterns of activity in the prefrontal cortex, thereby providing a potential neural substrate for prospective memory. During task execution, most information could be decoded from a more posterior region of prefrontal cortex, suggesting that different brain regions encode goals during task preparation and task execution. Decoding of intentions was most robust from the medial prefrontal cortex, which is consistent with a specific role of this region when subjects reflect on their own mental states.

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Available from: Chris D Frith, Sep 30, 2015
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    • "Further support for our interpretation comes from the study by Soon et al. (2008) involving simple voluntary movements. As described in the introduction, these authors could demonstrate that activity in a very similar region (MNI coordinates x = 33, y = 69, z = 12) differentiated between voluntary left/right motor choices well ahead of the subjectively felt time of decision (see also Haynes et al., 2007; Momennejad & Haynes, 2012). It should be noted that Soon et al. used a multi-voxel pattern analysis approach, while we used a classical fMRI analysis. "
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    ABSTRACT: The distinct feeling of wanting to act and thereby causing our own actions is crucial to our self-perception as free human agents. Disturbances of the link between intention and action occur in several disorders. Little is known, however, about the neural correlates of wanting or intending to act. To investigate these for simple voluntary movements, we used a paradigm involving hypnotic paralysis and functional magnetic resonance imaging. Eight healthy women were instructed to sequentially perform left and right hand movements during a normal condition, as well as during simulated weakness, simulated paralysis and hypnotic paralysis of the right hand. Right frontopolar cortex was selectively hypoactivated for attempted right hand movement during simulated paralysis while it was active in all other conditions. Since simulated paralysis was the only condition lacking an intention to move, the activation in frontopolar cortex might be related to the intention or volition to move. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Consciousness and Cognition 05/2015; 35:158–170. DOI:10.1016/j.concog.2015.05.010 · 2.31 Impact Factor
    • "Our results suggest an adaptive frontoparietal coding system that adjusts to the difficulty of the task at hand. Previous work has demonstrated robust frontoparietal multivoxel discrimination between rules in a variety of fixed experimental contexts (Harel et al., 2014; Waskom et al., 2014; Soon et al., 2013; Zhang et al., 2013; Momennejad, 2012; Reverberi et al., 2012a, 2012b; Cole et al., 2011; Woolgar, Hampshire, et al., 2011; Woolgar, Thompson, et al., 2011; Bode & Haynes, 2009; Haynes et al., 2007). In addition, univariate studies have implicated the lateral pFC, ACC/pre-SMA, and IPS in the learning, selection, retrieval, maintenance, and implementation of task rules (e.g., Crittenden & Duncan, 2014; Wendelken, Munakata, Baym, Souza, & Bunge, 2012; Dumontheil, Thompson, & Duncan, 2011; Donohue, Wendelken, & Bunge, 2008; Crone, Wendelken, Donohue, & Bunge, 2006; Dosenbach et al., 2006; Passingham, Toni, & Rushworth, 2000; Brass & von Cramon, 2004; Bunge, 2004), and work in nonhuman primates strongly suggests a role for prefrontal Figure 4. Multivoxel coding of rule, position, and response information in the MD system (A, B, and C) and visual cortex (D, E, and F) in easy (blue bars) and hard (red bars) rule conditions. "
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    ABSTRACT: How do our brains achieve the cognitive control that is required for flexible behavior? Several models of cognitive control propose a role for frontoparietal cortex in the structure and representation of task sets or rules. For behavior to be flexible, however, the system must also rapidly reorganize as mental focus changes. Here we used multivoxel pattern analysis of fMRI data to demonstrate adaptive reorganization of frontoparietal activity patterns following a change in the complexity of the task rules. When task rules were relatively simple, frontoparietal cortex did not hold detectable information about these rules. In contrast, when the rules were more complex, frontoparietal cortex showed clear and decodable rule discrimination. Our data demonstrate that frontoparietal activity adjusts to task complexity, with better discrimination of rules that are behaviorally more confusable. The change in coding was specific to the rule element of the task and was not mirrored in more specialized cortex (early visual cortex) where coding was independent of difficulty. In line with an adaptive view of frontoparietal function, the data suggest a system that rapidly reconfigures in accordance with the difficulty of a behavioral task. This system may provide a neural basis for the flexible control of human behavior.
    Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 05/2015; 27(10):1-17. DOI:10.1162/jocn_a_00827 · 4.09 Impact Factor
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    • "Today's reductionist neuropsychology owes much of its persuasive power to the discovery that " Bereitschaftspotential " (readiness potential) occurs in the brain prior to conscious decision-making. Data taken from the medial frontal cortex using the fMRI appear to anticipate the conscious decision to make a movement up to 10 s before that decision (Haynes et al., 2007). In neuroscience circles this has been enthusiastically and perhaps uncritically received, given that the effect is only 10–20% above chance. "
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    ABSTRACT: Contemporary research efforts have attempted to establish a psi-conducive hypnotic state primarily in terms of hypnotizability and dissociation. Much of this appears to be founded on the early historical association between hypnotic and psi phenomena, a misunderstood meta-analysis, and a number of shared variables. In reality, the state concept of hypnosis is still highly disputed and a review of the 60 years of intensive research on hypnosis indicates hypnosis is best seen as a complex combination of various factors: a " jungle of variables " rather than a unitary state. This implies the search for a specific psi-conducive state may be an illusory venture. However, some of the efforts to reduce hypnosis to unconsciously elicited expectancies or " automaticity " appear to reflect the current trend to denigrate the role of conscious processes. Paradoxically, the more dramatic phenomena of hypnosis may instead illustrate the potency of altered belief systems in effecting major changes in psychological processes. In a previous paper (Parker & Millar, 2014) the crisis in psi research was related to the failure to deal with the psi-based experimenter effect. The myth here was that by studying psi like any other ability, as a normally distributed variable, progress would be made. The current two-part paper is a companion to this and deals with another apparent myth that exacerbates the crisis: the excessive belief in the historic strength of the association of hypnosis with psi. It will be argued here that research has headed off in wrong directions with the result that it has now lost itself in a forest of findings. Like experimenter effects, a critical review of the evidence suggests there are nevertheless some promising ways forward. Research on what I call " hypnotic psi " is one of the few consistently active areas of research remaining in contemporary parapsychology Arguably, the revival of interest in using hypnosis to facilitate psi is appealing in psi research circles because it promises a refuge for what appears to be the robust historical association between the two areas. It will be argued here that poorly financed and ill-equipped ventures of this nature are potentially perilous given the complexity and demands of the issues encountered. Most of the contemporary publications on the topic of hypnotic psi (to be discussed fully in Part 2) have implicitly assumed—actually on little or no evidence—that hypnosis has been established not only as an altered state but also as a psi-conducive one. These current reports of the investigations of hypnotic psi show unfortunately little overt awareness of the complexity of the issues surrounding the nature of hypnosis that have evolved during recent years. Moreover, it will be later argued that in the face of this complexity, the need for maintaining the rigorous research tradition in parapsychology has been neglected. The risk is that the application of a less than state-of-the-art methodology to a heavily disputed area can actually worsen rather than improve the credibility of parapsychology. The fact of the matter is that the existence or nonexistence of a hypnotic state has been and still is the subject of 60 years of intensive research and debate in which there is little agreement (
    The Journal of parapsychology 04/2015; 79(1).
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