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Perceptions Can Now Be Altered With Neurofeedback

Scientists are using MRI feedback techniques to train brains to alter perceptions. The same research team that conducted a study this past spring about color perception are at it again.

In the spring, the team from Brown University used the same technology to associate the perception of color with the context of a pattern so strongly that participants when shown a pattern saw a color that wasn’t present.

In this new study, the researchers were able to change the participant’s opinion of faces while pointing out a part of the brain where both negative and positive perceptions take place.

The new technique, called “DecNef,” for “decoded neurofeedback” was used in the recent study. Over the course of a few days, researchers studied 24 volunteers. They were initially shown hundreds of faces and were asked to rate them on a scale where 1 was for dislike and where 10 for like, 5 being neutral.

Study co-author Takeo Watanabe, the Fred M. Seed Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences at Brown University says,

Face recognition is a very important social function for people. Facial recognition is associated with people’s emotions.

A few days later, an MRI was used to record patterns of activity in the cingulate cortex of the volunteers’ brains. The participants were divided into two groups of 12, a positive and a negative group. The groups were shown faces they had rated as neutral. After, they were given the unrelated task of enlarging a disc with their mind (a DecNef technique). The bigger the disc, the higher the monetary reward.

An MRI technique was used to study the cingulate cortex relating to facial perception.

An MRI technique was used to study the cingulate cortex relating to facial perception.

A third group of six was recruited as a control group. The were shown faces to rate but were not given the DecNef task.

All of the participants were queried about the once-neutral viewed faces. When participants were asked whether they were in a positive or negative group, they didn’t know. Thus, any changes in opinions about the neutral faces had nothing to do with their will or intention.

The researchers used decoder software to analyze the degree of activity in the circulate cortex to determine if the disc task had an effect on the participant’s opinion of the faces. It reveled that the level of brain activity was proportional to the amount of induced feelings (the task). The participants changed their perceptions of the faces based on the DecNef technique, from neutral to positive or negative.

The Study

The Study

DecNef was found to train people (without their knowledge) to produce specific feelings or perceptions in a specific context through reward. The goal is to use this technique for psychotherapy, for anxiety and more.

Watanabe adds,

If someone develops a traumatic memory that makes him or her suffer, even a small reduction of the suffering would be helpful.