Using fMRI to decode true thoughts independent of intention to conceal

Zhi Yang, Zirui Huang, Javier Gonzalez-Castillo, Rui Dai, G. Northoff, Peter A. Bandettini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Multi-variate pattern analysis (MVPA) applied to BOLD-fMRI has proven successful at decoding complicated fMRI signal patterns associated with a variety of cognitive processes. One cognitive process, not yet investigated, is the mental representation of "Yes/No" thoughts that precede the actual overt response to a binary "Yes/No" question. In this study, we focus on examining: (1) whether spatial patterns of the hemodynamic response carry sufficient information to allow reliable decoding of "Yes/No" thoughts; and (2) whether decoding of "Yes/No" thoughts is independent of the intention to respond honestly or dishonestly. To achieve this goal, we conducted two separate experiments. Experiment 1, collected on a 3T scanner, examined the whole brain to identify regions that carry sufficient information to permit significantly above-chance prediction of "Yes/No" thoughts at the group level. In Experiment 2, collected on a 7T scanner, we focused on the regions identified in Experiment 1 to examine the capability of achieving high decoding accuracy at the single subject level. A set of regions - namely right superior temporal gyrus, left supra-marginal gyrus, and left middle frontal gyrus - exhibited high decoding power. Decoding accuracy for these regions increased with trial averaging. When 18 trials were averaged, the median accuracies were 82.5%, 77.5%, and 79.5%, respectively. When trials were separated according to deceptive intentions (set via experimental cues), and classifiers were trained on honest trials, but tested on trials where subjects were asked to deceive, the median accuracies of these regions still reached 66%, 75%, and 78.5%. These results provide evidence that concealed "Yes/No" thoughts are encoded in the BOLD signal, retaining some level of independence from the subject's intentions to answer honestly or dishonestly. These findings also suggest the theoretical possibility for more efficient brain-computer interfaces where subjects only need to think their answers to communicate. © 2014 Elsevier Inc.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-92
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Deception
  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
  • FMRI
  • Multivariate pattern analysis
  • Searchlight
  • adult
  • article
  • behavior
  • BOLD signal
  • brain computer interface
  • college student
  • controlled study
  • deception
  • female
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • functional neuroimaging
  • human
  • human experiment
  • image analysis
  • intention to conceal
  • male
  • mental capacity
  • mental performance
  • middle frontal gyrus
  • parahippocampal gyrus
  • priority journal
  • spatial orientation
  • superior temporal gyrus
  • supramarginal gyrus
  • thinking
  • visual information
  • brain
  • brain cortex
  • forensic medicine
  • image processing
  • nuclear magnetic resonance imaging
  • photostimulation
  • physiology
  • procedures
  • psychology
  • reproducibility
  • young adult
  • Adult
  • Brain
  • Cerebral Cortex
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Intention
  • Lie Detection
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Young Adult


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