Mind reading is poised to make a remarkable leap from the carnival to the laboratory. Using magnetic resonance imaging, Kathleen O'Craven of the Rotman Research Institute at Toronto's Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care and Nancy Kanwisher of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have pinpointed two areas of the brain that are excited when people look at faces or places. The researchers found that the corresponding area activates almost as strongly when subjects merely think about one or the other. With a careful reading of brain scans, they can determine whether a subject is imagining a face or a place 85 percent of the time.
Fear not the thought police, however. "We can't determine whether people think that communists are bad," says O'Craven. Rather, she expects the work will aid communication with people incapacitated by stroke. "If we read them the names of people or places and saw a differentiation between the two brain areas, we could interpret that to mean they understand what we're saying."