What if a brain wave test could prove whether you'd walked down the street carrying a yellow umbrella?
New research suggests it could: Scientists have pinpointed a specific brain wave that responds to details it has encountered. That could have big implications for courtrooms (if a criminal had been carrying a pink umbrella, for example, a brain scan could help exonerate the suspect carrying the yellow umbrella).
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Electroencephalography (EEG) recordings show that the brain wave, known as P300, lights up when a person recognizes something meaningful among a list of random items.
"Perhaps the most surprising finding was the extent to which we could detect very trivial details from a subject's day, such as the color of umbrella that the participant had used," lead researcher John B. Meixner of Northwestern University said in a press release.
"This precision is exciting for the future because it indicates that relatively peripheral crime details, such as physical features of the crime scene, might be usable in a real-world [investigation.]"
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In order to mimic how P300 could be used in investigations, 24 college students agreed to wear clip-on video cameras for four hours, and then look at a series of descriptions in a lab the next day.
Half of the students were given descriptions that contained some details of scenarios they had encountered the previous day, whereas the others were given descriptions that they had no knowledge of. As expected, the authors wrote in Psychological Science, the P300 brain wave was larger only for the details that someone had actually seen.
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Next up: The researchers hope to show that using images instead of descriptions make an even greater impact on the P300.