Should I know what you think?

The Guardian reports new technology could literally enable mind reading as neuroscientists claim to be able to identify intentions to act from high-resolution brain scans.

Public relations and marketing practitioners may be aware of the , developed by Fishbein and Ajzen; a model that identifies attitudes and social norms as key drivers of intention to behave.  A complicated model that, although interesting, has limited predictive ability in practice. 

Could corporations and governments ever use brain scanning to gain greater insight into our intentions in relation to marketing, voting or other behaviour?  And, should they?

Is it really so simply to identify patterns of brain activity before we form meaningful thoughts that indicate our behaviour?   The researchers monitored simply intention to add or subtract two numbers – and claimed a 70% accuracy.  Is it me, or wouldn’t chance lead to 50% accuracy. 

Besides, aren’t most of our decisions much more complicated than an either/or choice?  And, aren’t we likely to be wired slightly differently – my understanding is that we develop neurological pathways as part of growing and learning, so how would this individuality be taken into account?

Speculation is that such technology would be used like lie detection, primarily in interrogating criminals or terrorists.  Could that then lead to day-time television brain-watching its “victims” who are currently subjected to lie detector and DNA tests (with no understanding that anything less than 100% accuracy, means there is margin of error).

Who will make the decision about the ethics of such developments – scientists, governments – those who will find a commercial use for the technology?  I fear that regardless of the ethics, the ability to read our minds would prove enough reason for our thoughts to cease being our own private business.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.