Measuring the right things

Any science student has, at some point, sat through a lecture on research methods which covers reliability and validity as factors which must be taken into account.  They can be handily summarised as: ‘If I, or someone else, repeat this experiment, will it give the same sort of result?’, and ‘Is my experiment actually measuring what I think it’s measuring?’.  Obviously a well-designed experiment will fulfill both these conditions.  Usually a series of funny little examples are presented, in the hope they’ll stick in your memory and help you distinguish between the two.  Despite this, I’d mostly forgotten about such things, until I saw the cartoon below – a particularly good example of an experiment high in reliability that isn’t measuring what it’s meant to be measuring – and the sort of result that neuroscientists really don’t want to see!




(source:)                                                                                                          Used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

If you’d like to find out more information about fMRI, has a very good summary here.


Marsden funding to boost brain research

The latest round of grants from the Marsden Fund, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand, brought good news for three CBR researchers, who have each  been given an opportunity to establish or substantially extend their research programmes.  The Marsden Fund supports research excellence in science, engineering and maths, social sciences and the humanities, and competition for grants is intense.   Marsden funding is regarded as the hallmark of excellence for research in New Zealand.

Professor Michael Corballis [pictured below with collaborator Dr Gurjica Badkova], has been granted $760,000 to extend his research into the relationship between handedness and cerebral asymmetry for language, which helps to reveal information about the origins of speech in humans.

Donna-Rose Addis, pictured below, received a grant of $780,000 which will enable her and her team to continue their investigations into ‘future memory’, and its relationship to imagination and creative thinking, aided by the latest imaging technology.

Lastly, Dr Meagan Barclay received a ‘fast-start’ grant from the Marsden council.  These grants are specifically targeted toward promising researchers at the beginning of their careers, and are intended to facilitate researchers in beginning an independent research programme.  Meagan will use her grant of $345,000 to establish a project which will characterise synaptic structure and function in the cochlea.

A closer look at depression

CBR member Dr Donna-Rose Addis features in the latest issue of Auckland Now, an occasional publication by the University of Auckland which seeks to showcase the impact the university has on our local and international communities through teaching, research, and community service.

Donna discusses past work by her research group, The Memory Lab, and details their latest project, which will use imaging technologies to gain insight into processes and potential structural changes in the brains of people with a history of depression.  She hopes this will increase of our understanding of the cognitive and memory changes that are often seen in depressed patients.

You can view the full article online here:

Mind Reading on Our Changing World

Radio NZ Our Changing World will feature the science behind Mind Reading tonight at 9pm.

The live MRI analysis event took place in Brain Awareness Week, and featured scientists Associate Professor Brett Cowan and Dr Donna Rose Addis. As part of ‘Mind Reading’ the experts were given the task of detecting the difference between a lie and a memory using Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

Could they do it? Find out more on Radio NZ tonight!

Mind Reading event video now online

Mind Reading featured MC Russell Brown, A/P Brett Cowan and Dr Donna Rose Addis.

If you missed this awesome event, you can now view the live brain scan analysis online.

We have four videos showing the different sections of the night:

  • Introduction to MRI
  • Mind Reading in Motion
  • Memorable Experiences
  • Truth or Lie

Let us know what you think and enjoy!

Truth or Lie?

This was the critical question answered in the ‘Mind Reading’ event on Wednesday. Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) brain scans, Dr Donna Rose Addis and Associate Professor Brett Cowan were asked to spot which pattern of brain activity looked most like a true memory.

The event was organised by the Centre for Brain Research and the Centre for Advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (CAMRI) at The University of Auckland, as part of Brain Awareness Week. Promising to reveal the science of brain imaging, ‘Mind Reading’ offered an entertaining look at the capabilities of brain imaging thanks to MRI technology.

So could they do it? Well the answer was a hesitant yes! At the live event held at the Auckland Museum Events Centre, MC journalist Russell Brown pushed cognitive neuroscientist Dr Addis to make a choice, and it turned out her pick was indeed the scan taken while participant Reece Roberts was remembering a true experience.

The central premise of the event revolved around psychology student Reece being put through an exciting experience – in this case a whiz around a race track – which he then had to remember. In the alternate scenario, he then had to ‘remember’ an event which never happened. In other words he had to lie and try to fool the scanner.

Memory and imagination actually use overlapping brain regions and so the scans from each scenario looked remarkably similar. The packed out public audience of 400 held their breaths while the choice was made, and finally the correct answer was revealed. It turned out that increased activity in the hippocampus, which organises memory, was the clues which gave the game away for Dr Addis.

So does this mean that MRI scanners could be used for lie detection? Well the answer was still a resounding no. The technology shows increasing promise for understanding human behaviour and thought, but is not reliable when scanning just one individual. This is because scientific experiments are usually conducted with a large group of people and repeated many times so that the responses are averaged out. 

However MRI technology, like the 3T Siemens scanner at CAMRI, is still hugely exciting for the future. With international research revealing that thoughts can be turned into words, and that people in comas still imagine moving, the sci-fi scenario of mind reading isn’t too far away.

Sneak preview of our memorable experience for Mind Reading!

Mind Reading – the memory!

As part of our attempt to mind read, we put our participant Reece Roberts through a memorable experience! Here Reece experiences high speeds in a race car, something he is sure to remember forever. View the You Tube clip.

Our scientists from the Centre for Brain Research then had to use Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to see if they could tell the difference between this memory and a lie, using only Reece’s brain scan.

Can they do it? Find out more at