Should brain science be used to detect terrorism?

As a brain scan gives vegetative state patient the power to say ‘yes' and ‘no' we ask what implications this has for looking into the minds of both the sick and the healthy...

A patient presumed to be in a vegetative state can communicate ‘yes’ and ‘no’ using just his thoughts, according to new research from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the University of Liège. 


For seven years the man lay in a hospital bed, showing no signs of consciousness since sustaining a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. However, scientists devised a technique to enable the man, now 29, to answer simple questions through the use of a hi-tech scanner, monitoring his brain activity.

To answer yes, he was told to think of playing tennis, a motor activity. To answer no, he was told to think of wandering from room to room in his home, visualising everything he would expect to see there, creating activity in the part of the brain governing spatial awareness.


His doctors were amazed when the patient gave the correct answers to a series of questions about his family. The experiment will fuel the controversy of when a patient should have life support removed.

Taking this one step further, if brain scans could tell us more reliably what people are seeing, whether they are lying, what their intentions are, could they be used to detect tendencies to psychopathy, to terrorism, to addiction?

Such claims are already being made. Should we be worried about the possibility that brain science could bring an era of surveillance that will make the epidemic of CCTV cameras look trivial?

Let us know your thoughts below…

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