Would I Lie To You?
On Sunday (17th June), fMRI was put to the test as the ‘Ultimate Lie Detector’, live, at the Cheltenham Science Festival.
Professor Derek Jones, MRI Director of CUBRIC in the School of Psychology, was part of a 4-strong team, presenting the session entitled ‘Brain Scan Live: Lying and Deception’ at the Festival. His co-presenters were Dr Mark Lythgoe, Director of CABI at UCL and Director of the Science Festival, Professor Richard Wiseman, University of Hertfordshire, and Evan Davis, presenter on BBC Radio 4 and Dragon’s Den.
Just before the event (Left-Right): Mark Lythgoe, Richard Wiseman, Derek Jones and Evan Davis (Photocredit: Tom Roberts,CABI, UCL)
In the Brain Scan Live event, Prof Jones explained the principles of MRI before selecting a volunteer from the audience to undergo a brain scan at the COBALT imaging centre in Cheltenham, with the help of Peter Sharpe of COBALT. As the volunteer was escorted from the auditorium, they were told to go into a nearby office, search the drawers for a wallet – and to take half the money and keep it. The team also asked for the participant’s details that included their home address.
A live video link to the imaging centre allowed the festival audience to follow proceedings as the volunteer (ferried from the festival by taxi) was first shown pictures of random streets, taken from Google streetview, and then pictures of her own home (her address being texted to the imaging centre from the Festival!) while her brain was scanned. The audience was guided through interpretation of the fMRI results, and correctly ascertained which home belonged to the volunteer. The volunteer was then shown pictures of different offices – which included the ‘scene of the crime’ (wallet steal). After much nail biting and technical difficulties, the scan results came through and Evan Davis challenged Jones and Lythgoe to correctly identify the fMRI result belonging to the ‘crime scene’. After quick deliberation, the team made their choice – and, to the relief of everyone in the crowd, it was correct!
Prof Jones said of the event “Without doubt, this was the most ambitious event at the whole festival – and it took its toll on our nerves! However, it was clear that the audience appreciated that we were conducting a real experiment, under test conditions and with real uncertainty of success, and they seemed as relieved as we were when it all worked! The discussion in the ‘Talking Point’ tent afterwards shows just how much interest there is in the brain and what imaging can tell us. We’re just thinking about how to up the ante for next year’s Festival!”
The Cheltenham Science Festival is the UK’s biggest, and this year drew a bigger crowd than ever, issuing nearly 39,000 tickets, with many thousands of visits to the free exhibitions, zones and events. A blog of ‘behind the scenes’ can be found here.