Thursday, March 14, 2013
Behavioral Social Neuroscience Seminar
When Thoughts Become Actions - Imaging in Disorders of Consciousness
Adrian Owen, Senior Scientist/Assistant Director, MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge
In recent years, rapid technological developments in the field of neuroimaging have provided new methods for revealing thoughts, actions and intentions based solely on the pattern of activity that is observed in the brain. In specialized centres, these methods are now being employed routinely to detect consciousness and even to communicate with some behaviourally non-responsive patients who clinically appear to be comatose or in a vegetative state. In this talk, I will compare those circumstances in which neuroimaging data can be used to infer consciousness in the absence of a behavioural response with those circumstances in which it cannot. This distinction is fundamental for understanding and interpreting patterns of brain activity in various states of consciousness (including anesthesia), and has profound implications for clinical care, diagnosis, prognosis and medical-legal decision-making after severe brain injury. It also sheds light on more basic scientific questions about how consciousness is measured and the neural representation of our own thoughts and intentions.