Can Psychologists really read your mind?

Psychology is the study into mind and behaviour and is often about predicting actions and looking into why we choose to act in the way we do. The behaviourist approach is a good example of this, with Skinner’s behaviour shaping predicting future actions by conditioning us. Despite this you don’t have to be an FBI interrogator to figure out what is going on in someone’s head. The signals are all there, it is just that people don’t realise it. TV programmes such as Derren Brown make it seem like psychologists really can read our mind, as he can often predict what people are thinking.

A team of world-leading neuroscientists have devised a system that analyses brain activity to work out a person’s intentions before they have acted on them. More advanced versions may be able to read complex thoughts and even pick them up before the person is conscious of them. It works by the computer learning unique patterns of brain activity that correspond to different thoughts. It then scans the brain to look for these thoughts and predicts what the person is thinking. It is expected to drive advances in brain-controlled computers, leading to artificial limbs and machinery that can respond to thoughts. More advanced versions could be used to help interrogate criminals and assess prisoners before they are released. Also, they may be able to spot people who plan to commit crimes before they break the law.

Whilst all this new technology sounds amazing, the ethical side of it needs to be considered. Is it really ethical to study a person’s mind and to delve into their thoughts? A person’s mind and thoughts are very personal and I think this new technology should only be used for purposes such as on criminals, because this could provide a valuable insight to a criminals mind. Techniques have previously been used in psychology to study a person’s mind, for example hypnosis. This has been used for a variety of reasons including to treat mild pain, chronic pain, phobias etc.

Many people will still continue to argue that none of these techniques into reading a mind are valid. I think technology is far off being able to figure out completely a person’s mind and how they are going to act before they even know. Every persons mind is different so this technique can never be universalised or generalised.



Posted on November 18, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Dear lovely Vicky. You have raised a very interesting point of which whether technology would help us to investigate human’s mind, which is one of the biggest mystery of mankind. I think the technology you discussed is one of those classic debates over privacy vs the good cause. It is worth considering the validity of human mind. We always have thoughts in our head which we do not act out, due to Social, Moral, and sensibility reasons. It is not fair the technology being used to spot people who plan to commit crimes before they break the law, because thinking is not a crime. When they are not committing a crime, their privacy must be respected and the authority have no rights to investigate them. I agree on your conclusion of which its impossible to rule out individual differences, and overall WELL DONE VICKY! xxx

  2. firstly the attempting of the reading of the mind is surely unethical? as this requires a technique to try and tap into a persons thoughts and feelings. Secondly personally i dont believe it is ever possible to say for definite what a person is thinking or feeling, there maybe certain external characteristics up for interpretation if a person knows what they are looking for, and you could measure the concentration of certain chemicals within the brain to try and judge a persons mind but again i dont think you can ever say that you are 100% sure of what a person is thinking. Also i agree when you say that everyone is different and Psychologists need to consider individual differences when trying to work out a persons mood. 🙂

  3. Regarding the ethical issue of that matter it would cross boundaries with human rights to privacy. The public wouldn’t agree to such an invasion of privacy and it could easily be misused which is dangerous. With reference to Derren Brown and other TV psychologists much of what they do is staged there is no evidence aside from the new research you have explained that people’s minds can be read. And actually people are very complex it is almost insulting for these TV psychologists to say that by simple body language or ‘psychic’ powers we can exactly unravel a persons inner thoughts, it is a reductionist and simplistic view. Personally, while interesting I don’t think that ‘reading’ people’s minds by computers is very constructive to society and its unlikely to be fully possible because of the uniqueness of humans.

  4. One of the evidences that Derren Brown TV show could be defined as a fraud is that he was recently accused to have lied to the public by saying that he was putting his life in danger and that because he could read minds he wasn’t in danger ( Instead of using a real gun, it was a specialised gun using a rubber bullet….”We were absolutely satisfied that, firstly, there would no offences committed in Jersey in relation to any laws at all and secondly, that no-one was in any danger whatsoever.”

  5. An intresting read, although I think clarification is needed as to what specific technologies have been developed, and by whom. No evidence or citations is displayed to me so I cannot research for myself what you are discussing. Also, I think implying that Derren Brown is a psychologist may be stretching things a bit too far x

  6. There are some ethical issues that could be raise when developing so called ‘mind reading’ technology. Much like the point raised by Eugene, we do not act on all our thoughts, and some are merely pass through our minds in a day dream. Furthermore, some may consider the usage of such machines as a form of social control making them extremely unethical. The new technology mentioned in this blog seems like a great leap in the development of technology within science, are there any studies or further information on this technology that I could read? I find the thought of such technology intriguing and would like to know more. I would consider your point about behaviouralists being able to predict behaviour as not always valid. Although behaviouralists can to some extent predict behaviour using psychological models such as the behavioural model of reinforcement (Skinner) or classical conditioning (Pavlov, 1901), they are a long way from predicting other day to day behaviours. Overall, I found this blog an interesting read and would appreciate some more details on studies relating to this mind reading technology.

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