Carnegie Mellon scientists read emotions in the brain |

Carnegie Mellon scientists read emotions in the brain

Deb Erdley
Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientist Marcel Just.

A neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon University is translating science fiction into science fact.

And the latest developments in his work are pretty amazing.

As recently as a decade ago, CMU professor and researcher Marcel Just made headlines around the world with news that scientists could tap enhanced MRI technology coupled with sophisticated computers to determine what concrete objects a subject was thinking about.

By 2013, Just’s team had refined their work to be able to identify emotions in a similar fashion in a controlled laboratory setting. That accomplishment set legal minds on fire about the potential implications for the courts, a debate that is still going on.

Sunday night, the CBS program “60 Minutes” featured a visit to his lab to see how far researchers have come.

Using a series of computer-generated images, Just showed reporter Lesley Stahl how the brain functions in distinctly different ways when thoughts are centered on complex concepts such as faith, envy, cruelty and even suicide.

Eventually, some believe his work could lead to a map of the brain that would allow scientists to know what we’re thinking and feeling.

While science fiction has long obsessed about the power of mind reading, scientists here are trying to put such tools to work for good.

“60 Minutes” reported that Just’s team has joined with Dr. David Brent, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh, and Harvard psychologist Matt Nock on a study that will gather information on the brain activity of suicidal individuals that might help experts assess who is at risk.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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