Western Docs Use Hitchcock To Study Brain Activity

Photo provided by Western University

Researchers at Western have made another big discovery in the study of patients who are in vegetative states.

Lorina Naci, a postdoctoral fellow from Western’s Brain and Mind Institute, and her Western colleagues, Rhodri Cusack, Mimma Anello, and Adrian Owen, reported their findings Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, in a study titled, “A common neural code for similar conscious experiences in different individuals.”

The researchers discovered that a man who had been unresponsive for 16 years had similar brain responses to an Alfred Hitchcock film as health participants in the study.

The subjects were shown a short film by the legendary director while they were in an MRI scanner at Western’s Centre for Functional and Metabolic Mapping.

According to Naci and her team, the results suggest the unresponsive man was not only consciously aware, but also that he understood the movie.

“For the first time, we show that a patient with unknown levels of consciousness can monitor and analyze information from their environment, in the same way as healthy individuals,” says Naci, lead researcher on the new study. “We already know that up to one in five of these patients are misdiagnosed as being unconscious and this new technique may reveal that that number is even higher.”

The researchers hope their work will lead to a better understanding of behaviorally unresponsive patients, who may be misdiagnosed as lacking consciousness