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We Can Control Individual Neurons by Concentrating, Study Says

patient focusing on marilyn monroeScientists continue their quest for the elusive art of mind control. Recently, researchers at UCLA and the California Institute of Technology have helped patients manipulate images on a computer by teaching them to control the firing of specific neurons in their brains. With the aid of their research team, UCLA professor of neurosurgery Itzhak Fried and Caltech neuroscientist Christof Koch employed patients with intractable epilepsy (with their consent) in a study that investigated whether or not they could regulate the activity of specific neurons. The patients already had electrodes implanted in their brains as part of their epilepsy treatment, but the researchers were able to use those same electrodes to record neuron activity.

After being interviewed about their interests, each patient was shown four pictures, towards which they strongly responded; a different neuron fired for each image, and those neurons were matched up with the images on a laptop. One patient, for example, liked Marilyn Monroe. When shown the starlet's picture overlaid on an image of actor Josh Brolin, the patient was able to increase the brightness of Monroe's image simply by concentrating on her. The patients were able to brighten their target images with a 70-percent success rate, overall.

"The goal was to get patients to control things with their minds," researcher Moran Cerf told the UCLA newsroom. "At the same time, we wanted to take it one step further than just brain-machine interfaces, and tap into the competition for attention between thoughts that race through our minds."

In other words, we know that our brain distinguishes between certain sights, smells and sounds on a crowded street; but Fried, Koch, Cerf and the others wanted to understand how that process works, so they could use it for specific actions and purposes. While advanced applications of this research are far off, it does suggest that paraplegics could, one day, check their e-mail or walk on prosthetic legs simply by learning to consciously fire specific neurons.

Tags: brain, caltech, ChristofKoch, epilepsy, ItzhakFried, MindControl, MoranCerf, paraplegic, research, science, study, top, ucla