Our brains have fingerprints as unique as the ones on our fingertips, but this discovery could lead to both beneficial and discriminatory uses in the future.
Our individuality doesn’t stop at fingerprints and microbial clouds. Now, researchers from Yale University has discovered that our brain, too, has a unique “cognitive fingerprint.” In fact, the images of brain activity taken by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can be used to distinguish one individual from another, as well as grasp someone’s level of intelligence.
Just by looking at numerous fMRI scans taken of the 126 study participants, the researchers were able to determine a unique “connectivity profile” for each individual, allowing them to distinguish them from one another. Amazingly, when comparing the brain scans of individuals completing the same task, they were able to identify each person with 99 percent accuracy. Even when comparing brain scans of participants completing different tasks, the researchers were still able to achieve 80 percent accuracy.
"We demonstrate that it is possible, with near-perfect accuracy in many cases, to identify an individual from a large group of subjects solely on the basis of his or her connectivity matrix," the research group wrote in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
While the discovery of a brain fingerprint is, in itself, impressive, the team also discovered that the scans of brain activity can offer a look into a person’s level of intelligence. An fMRI reveals the connectivity patterns in a brain that often correlate with how well someone will perform on an intelligence test, ScienceAlert reports. However, it doesn’t offer specific or comprehensive information about an individual’s smarts.
Will this lead to mandatory brain scans as part of the job process in the future? If so, concerns will rise over the ethics involved, because it would be harder to prevent discrimination in the hiring process. Employers may be too quick to judge applicants by a brain scan before exploring what other qualities might make them the best candidate for the job.
However, Emily Finn, co-author of the study and Ph.D. neuroscience student, hopes brain fingerprints might help doctors and clinicians better predict and treat neuropsychiatric diseases based on the connectivity profiles.
“We have hundreds of drugs for treating neuropsychiatric illness, but there’s still a lot of trial and error and failed treatments,” Finn told Nature. “This might be another tool.”