Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mental enhancement through neuroimaging

In The Neuro Revolution, Zack Lynch contends that there is a coming revolution in neuroimaging technology that could be on the same order as the industrial revolution and the information revolution.

1. Neuroimaging for truth detection
Perhaps the most important application area for neuroimaging is truth detection. According to Joel Huizenga, CEO of NoLieMRI, the annual worldwide market is $36 billion for truth verification. The U.S. government does 40,000 lie detection tests per day, and the Supreme Court acceptance standard is results that have a 95% chance of accuracy. Businesses buy 400,000 tests per year, some of which only have 50% accuracy. FMRIs are much better lie detectors than current tests. Mechanically, more blood goes to other parts of the brain which are related to deception when someone is lying. Explicit lie detection is one demand area but truth verification is much broader. The notion of brain fingerprinting can be used to detect the presence or absence of information in the brain, for example testing knowledge of crime scene details.

2. Neuroimaging for mental illness assessment and rehabilitation
A second important application area for neuroimaging is mental illness identification and rehabilitation. A government-sponsored survey published in 2005 found that almost half of Americans meet the criteria for a mental illness at some point in their lives, and that 25% met the criteria for having a mental illness within the past year. The categories of mental illness assessed were anxiety disorders (panic, post-traumatic stress disorders); mood disorders (major depression, bipolar disease); impulse control disorders (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder); and substance abuse.

In 1990 there were 1.1 million people in U.S. prisons; sixteen years later, in 2006, the number had nearly doubled to 2.1 million. There is a high rate of drug abuse in individuals who are arrested for crime in cities. One claim is that many are self-treating a mental condition (any variety of unproductive mental states) with the primitive tools of drugs and alcohol. 30% of state offenders and 40% of federal offenders are brought on drug charges. Further, a significant percent of inmates have some sort of brain damage or suboptimal brain issue. In the long term, it might be possible to identify and automatically rehabilitate these issues in both at-risk populations and the populace as a whole to improve ongoing mental health.

For fMRI usage to become widespread and routine, there would need to be improvements in several areas including cost, user experience, science findings, and clinical use. However, over time, the wider use of neuroimaging could potentially have a significant impact on human interaction and mental health. There could be interesting cultural changes if there is progress towards a truth-based culture where deception is known and improved levels of mental wellness are sustained across the populace.

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