Scientists in Trinity College Dublin routinely look inside a live brain to reveal its workings using fMRI scans. These scans can open a window on to our thoughts or reveal traces of thought processes we are unaware of, which has given rise to a new area of research: neuromarketing.
Brain scans of a 23-year-old woman, who was in a vegetative state in the UK after a car accident, showed that language areas in her brain lit up when she was asked her name, and a motor area lit up when she was asked to imagine playing tennis. Surgeons now use the technique to pinpoint language centres before brain surgery. And, recently, researchers were able to tell which alphabetical letter a person was looking at by examining such fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans.
But brain imaging is also of interest to companies and marketers, which for some raises worrying ethical issues. US scientists warn that it is possible, for example, thatneuroimaging could allow the creation of a “super-heroin of food” – a product so delicious, so addictive, we would find it irresistible.