Brain Scans Give Snapshot of Future Behavioral Patterns


Behavior patterns, including tobacco addiction and depression, can be predicted through examination of brain scans, according to a new study.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and scans utilizing electroencephalography were studied by researchers looking for connections between behavior and brain images.

This new finding could help healthcare professionals treat patients through examination of non-invasive brain scans. These techniques have been used before in the treatment of certain conditions. However, such methods are not commonly employed as a means of determining underlying causes behind behaviors.

Some mental disabilities, such as anxiety and depression, might only be successfully treated in 50 percent of cases. Several different treatment methods, including behavioral modification or drugs, are available to physicians treating those suffering from the conditions. Some patients may respond better to one treatment than another, and brain scans could be utilized to determine which methods might be most effective.

John Gabrieli of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) led the study, which could lead to more frequent use of brain scans in making treatment decisions. The team of investigators utilized 70 peer-reviewed journal articles in drawing their conclusions.

"In so many situations right now, we have almost no idea which is the best way to promote a person's health. Some people may respond better to behavioral modification. Some may respond better to treating their depression with drugs. Some people might even have an adverse reaction to certain medication," Gabrieli said.

Addiction may be predicted through the use of brain scans, and treatment methods applied proactively, in order to reduce the effects of disorders. For instance, if a teenager is shown to be especially susceptible to addiction, advance notice provided by brain scans could allow parents and healthcare providers an opportunity to work preventing abuse.

In 2012, Gabrieli took a leading role in a study that determined treatment of social anxiety can be predicted through the use of brain scans.

In the future, such techniques could be used to determine if convicts are likely to fall back into a life of crime, or even which lessons could be best used in the instruction of students.

"We now commonly take blood tests for a huge variety of disease. When it comes to human behavior, brain imaging might well serve a similar purpose," Mike Gazzaniga, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California Santa Barbara, told the press.

Prediction as a Humanitarian and Pragmatic Contribution from Human Cognitive Neuroscience, an article outlining the findings in the study, was published in the journal Neuron.

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