Sunday, July 09, 2006

Lie Detection by MRI spooks ethicists

Helen Pearson writes a good summary of issues and current work on lie detection that catches brains in the act of deception, unlike conventional methods that rely on stress-induced changes in pulse rates or skin conductance. Particular areas of the prefrontal cortex thought to be involved in detecting errors and inhibiting responses become more active during lying. Several groups claim 90% certainty in detecting when individuals are lying in a laboratory setting. There is controversy over statistical methods used in the experiments, and there are no data about whether the technique can be beaten by countermeasures, as the more conventional measures can. Many people who do brain imaging think that claims for the technique may crash and burn as more work is done. There is sentiment for a regulatory scheme that would prevent the use of MRI for lie detection until there was sufficient evidence to conclude that it was proven safe and effective - much as the US Food and Drug Administration bars or approves a drug. There is something deeply unsettling and intrusive about peering into someone's brain, essentially 'mind reading' even before the subject can make a response.

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