Magnetic Resonance Imaging (Margaux's presentation)


Post comments on the readings


I was really fascinated by the article "This What Your Brain on Drugs Really Looks Like". Although the article mentions possible sources of flaws in the style of research testing, I believe that practical information can still be gathered. The fact that there is additional locations in the brain activated when an individual was on marijuana since other normally-activated areas are less active is simply amazing! While reading the other article "Seeing is Believing", I found myself in agreement with the author. If I were to just read an article explaining that there was less/more neuronal activity in the brain while under the influence of a hallucinogenic chemicals that was explained with just data charts, I would have been less convinced of the validity without the physical evidence that an MRI image offers. An individual of the general public can interpret the meaning of an MRI with minimal explanation or assistance. Although, as the article mentions this can also be negative as the public and untrained have "shown a tendency to oversimplify and misinterpret" MRI results, I still believe this to be a positive thing since it allows a wider group of people to be informed. Overall, I believe that MRI technology is a benefit to society because it may bring awareness to some of the more dangerous drugs and the possible effects that the drugs can have to the brain because of its relatively easy interpretation through physical images.

The article "Alone Together" brought to mind several Sci-Fi movies involving robots living among humans interacting at a similar level. One in particular is the movie Her. Her is a movie about a lonely man who falls for an intelligent computer operating system (OS). The film entertains the idea of a relationship with an IA system. I believe the question of whether IA robots should be given rights such as 'realness' is frightening. I personally know that I would not wish to be in a relationship with a robot that lacks individual thought and emotion.


The two readings Margaux assigned us are the only two things I've ever read on MRI technology. If it's possible to know a negative amount about something, that's how much I knew on the subject. The Gonzalez reading was interesting; I was surprised to learn that increased/decreased activity (read: blood flow) in a certain part of the brain does not necessarily correlate with an increase/decrease of function in what that part of the brain is associated with. For reasons illustrated in the McCabe and Castel report, I simply assumed that would have been the case.

After reading the McCabe and Castel report, I can easily see myself misunderstanding published information simply by the inclusion of MRI representations in a report. That's unnerving because I view myself as a habitual skeptic, and the idea of being misled (either willfully by the author or by misleading myself) by something as simple as a picture confounds the expectations I have of myself. I did not find it surprising, though, that simply the mention of neuroscience data increases the perception of an article/study's credibility. It shouldn't have been such a surprise, then, that adding a graphic to the mix—like a pretty, color-coded MRI representation—that an average reader would perceive the already-less-in-question-than-maybe-it-merits article or study as especially credible. As the McCabe/Castel piece points out, though, is how that can easily lead to compounded misconceptions: I misunderstand what's being described by an MRI picture in one article, and then that misunderstanding informs my further-misunderstanding of the next article I read that has MRI graphics in it.

I also want to mention that I was taken with a particular term from the Gonzalez reading: “unconstrained cognition.” I believe that we laypeople do have this sense that the brain and mind are different entities in some way. That is, our minds are these limitless, undefinable things that supposedly make us special, and our brains, while related to our minds, are just the meat held in our skulls. The McCabe/Castel reading touched on that idea, as well. I'm not sure whether I now have the sense that contemporary scientific thought bears that out (as in, our brains function x way, and we tend to perceive the world in y manner because of it), or if the current conventional wisdom is that mind and brain are not different.... or if the scientific community even really cares about the distinction.

Actually, thanks to Margeaux, I'm not confident that I even know what the hell I'm talking about in this post and that I'm not making an ass of myself. Regardless, the take-away from the readings for me is to 1) respect the use of MRI technology in scientific pursuits 2) without kidding myself that I am in any way competent in understanding said pursuits' findings.


How exactly are you supposed to interpret the MRI scan pictures of brain activity? I imagine that it’s more complicated than just looking at where on the brain the colors are, but that’s all I’m really getting out of it. The “Seeing is Believing” article mentions the potential of the uninitiated public misinterpreting the images of MRI scans and the data they convey, so I’m sure that there’s more to the picture. I would agree with the point made in the “Seeing is Believing” article that showing the brains scans alongside summaries of data makes it seem more legitimate and believable to a reader that isn’t very knowledgeable in the field of cognition. It gives the public a simple and definitive image of what must be happening in the brain, so it must be true. In this case, it’s really true that a picture says a thousand words. Explaining the processes of cognition and the meaning of the MRI scans in words probably wouldn’t work too well on the average person, but show them that picture and suddenly it all seems much clearer. I don’t know a lot about the brain, and to me those scans look like they represent what exactly is going on in there, to a degree.

-Andrew B.

Based on the readings, I totally agree that a complicated image or some sort of imaging could persuade the human mind to believe the fact that is being portrayed and also encourage the human mind into a more reasoned thinking.

Well, I have been writing so many scientific reports for classes, in order for the grader to understand, we need to present it in a way that is simple but with all the information in it. This can be done using figures and tables and charts.If I were to explain results in a draggy manner in words, i would just loose my readers.

This goes the same to the mri imaging of the brain. I agree with the author in saying that MRI imaging would help normal people to understand and interpret better but having the risk of oversimplifying it.

Overall, i think that MRI imaging can be a great use to us in the medical field in understanding how the brain works...

I found the articles on MRIs really interesting, but I still don’t have much of a grasp on how MRIs work or what to make of the images. However, much like the article “Seeing Is Believing” suggests, seeing images of brain activity (to go along with a description of what they means) persuades me to believe that it makes sense.

In the article “This is what your brain on drugs really looks like”, I thought it was interesting that different researchers studying the effects of mushrooms came to opposite conclusions based on their MRI results. It’s kind of crazy to me that we’ve advanced so far in so many fields of science, yet we’ve still got so much to learn about how our brains actually function.


Before reading these articles I really didn't know that much about MRIs so I didn't have many thoughts about it besides being a positive advancement for medical technology. I knew that it was helpful but wasn't really sure why. I did find the articles interesting and informative. For example, I had seen images before of fMRIs, but never really knew what the colors in the images of the brain meant. Thanks to McCabe and Castel I know that the colors are showing the activated areas of the brain. That seems simple enough and I feel like that should have been obvious before, but I had frankly never thought about what MRIs have done for medical advancement. I feel like many people have not put much thought about the technology we have. I feel like so many people take it for granted.


I was eager to skim through the io9 article on imaging of the intoxicated brain but didn’t read it in full till after reading the one by McCabe and Castel “Seeing is believing”. The two make a good pair, since the io9 article is precisely the sort of editorialized science the McCabe and Castel address. While the io9 folks do heavily rely on the brain imaging to speak for them, I believe they said on more than one instance that a given study may have been contradicted by past studies or that numerous studies may be inconsistent with one another. They then spoke to the significance in choosing experimental conditions, such as drug administration routes, and how they present seemingly contradicting results of a complex subject.

So, while I would have been happy to suspend disbelief for a sensationalized article detailing drug-fueled cosmic mind expansion found proved by brain-imaging, they tend toward caution.

For full disclosure I frequent io9, having said that, I give them props for not going overboard with drawing too far of reaching conclusions from these studies. Even if that would have made for the more sensational reading.


It’s surprising to see the short-term effects of drugs on the brain, such as heightened awareness, energy boosts, and heck, superpowers. Even though these drugs are quite detrimental over the long term, their immediate effects are nothing less than supernatural. For example, when you smoke a cigarette, you experience a high and when you drink a bottle of beer, you become more relaxed. Since we like to feel good, be it a high or a low, we become accustomed to the use of these drugs in order to reestablish those feelings. Under the scope of an MRI, the brain activity present during the drug intake can be spontaneous initially, but might become less prevalent over time.

Through the use of an MRI, we are able to learn a lot about an individual. The different brain patterns determine their attitudes, their intelligence, and their decisions. It was also very interesting to learn that watching TV can lead to improved math skills. Who knew that similar activations in a specific lobe inside the brain would provide positive effects for a crucial skill?


The study on the differences between brain activity for drug users was incredibly interesting and made me see things differently. While I always revered the mind as great yet mysterious, I think that this opened a whole new door. The study, I felt, left people with more questions than answers because the mind’s reaction to chemical stimulation is so complex and could be different for every person. The psychedelic drug research intrigued me the most because those drugs (probably because I’ve never taken them myself) harbor the most mystery for me, and looking at it from a scientific research point of view in this study further proves my point that you just can’t know. I also found it interesting that they injected people with the psychedelic, I would think that they would want to have the subject orally ingest it to keep it as realistic as possible. On a somewhat related note, I feel that it would be very beneficial to society to do these tests for other, commonly used drugs but on a long-term scale, so that they would have definitive proof for pointing people away from it or changing their opinions. For example, I know that my coworker who has been prescribed Adderall since he was in elementary school (he is now 26) was just now told that the drug has been correlated with Alzheimer’s later on in life, something that would have swayed his parent’s decision to put him on the medication. Similarly, if scientists can prove that certain drugs are capable of severely altering/diminishing brain function, there might be less drug abuse in the United States.


It is interesting to get into the interpretation side of analyzing brain images. The articles were not what I was expecting them to be about, as I was thinking it was going to be on how MRI's work rather than what is interpreted from them. What is neat about the interpretation of it rather than the how it works part, is that it connects with us on an individual level. While I have never done shrooms, I found it interesting that brain activity was decreased on shrooms. I also found it interesting that they can actually see different parts of the brain that are active for a cigarette smoker (naturally interesting to me since I am a smoker).

Perhaps the most interesting section for me was about the marijuana usage. Seeing as though there is a huge movement to legalize marijuana right now, I sure hope the laws that go into affect about it (if it does in fact become legal), take in to account these type of studies. It sure as heck cannot ever be legal to drive under the influence if it slows your visual tracking down! My husband has just assured me that driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in Colorado, so that is good. But apparently they are having a lot of problems enforcing it and trying to decide on a legal limit. Perhaps more brain studies could help solve this problem.


It was really interesting to see how the brain looks under the influence of different substances. I was taken aback when I saw that hallucinations are produced by decreasing brain activity, as hallucinogens are known for altered states of mind, which would make most people assume that brain activity is being increased. Another set of scans I found interesting were the "brain on cigarettes" series. I am curious to see what the scans would look like if you compared these scans next to someone who had just finished using chewing tobacco. Since nicotine is the main ingredient of both cigarettes and chew, would the scans be similar?

In all cases, it just goes to show how useful a technology like magnetic resonance imaging can be. I am sure many of us have seen the classic "this is your brain on drugs" commercial where a frying pan is shown and someone suddenly cracks an egg on the hot pan to portray the message that people who use drugs are essentially "frying" their brains. However, with a technology like magnetic resonance imaging, doctors, scientists, and other qualified individuals can show and tell us what is really going on, which in turn allows our society to learn more about these substances.

It was very interesting to see just how much the brain is affected by drugs and even more intriguing was the fact that there are different parts within the brain that get affected by it more than others. For example, looking specifically at beer. I know a ton of people that drink beer because it helps create a better feeling. It's one of the main social aspects that are a huge part of our lives. Getting together with friends, grabbing some food and beer is one of those normal things to do, but we don't consider the consequences. This article really makes you as a reader understand the things that your brain goes through at different stages because of things like beer. Not to say that drinking is wrong and we shouldn't do it, but more so that we should be more aware of how it affects us. The more obvious and well known drugs like weed and the others mentioned are pretty easy to understand the ramifications of, but seeing exactly what changes was a great learning experience.

- Talha

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This page contains a single entry by Capper Nichols published on March 25, 2014 9:16 AM.

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