Can scientists fight terrorism by reading minds? Time magazine reports that researchers at Northwestern University have moved closer to that possibility with a test that could uncover nefarious plans by measuring brain waves. In a study published in the journal Psychophysiology, psychologists John Meixner and Peter Rosenfeld used electrodes to measure the brain waves of 29 undergraduates who had been told to mock-plan either a terrorist bombing or a vacation.
They were told the terrorist event should be planned for Houston in July, while the vacation could be planned for a different city in a different month. The researchers then presented the students with the names of various cities, methods of terrorist attack and dates. As they did so, they scanned the subjects’ brains with electroencephalography, which records electrical activity along the scalp produced by the firing of neurons. They watched for a particular brainwave – dubbed the P300, because it fires every 300 milliseconds – which signals recognition of something familiar. The study said the researchers were able to identify 10 out of 12 “terrorists” and were able to correctly match 20 out of 30 crime-related details. Rosenfeld noted that the test has “limited application.”