Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a technique for measuring brain activity by detecting the changes in blood oxygenation and flow that occur in response to neural activity. For the past few decades it has been considered one of the most promising tools in neuroscience research for unlocking the mysteries of the human brain. Recently, some clever neuroscientists decided to test its effectiveness on a fish , and made a surprising discovery:

The 18-inch-long Atlantic salmon lay perfectly still for its brain scan. Emotional pictures —a triumphant young girl just out of a somersault, a distressed waiter who had just dropped a plate — flashed in front of the fish as a scientist read the standard instruction script aloud. The hulking machine clunked and whirred, capturing minute changes in the salmon’s brain as it assessed the images. Millions of data points capturing the fluctuations in brain activity streamed into a powerful computer, which performed herculean number crunching, sorting out which data to pay attention to and which to ignore.

By the end of the experiment, neuroscientist Craig Bennett and his colleagues at Dartmouth College could clearly discern in the scan of the salmon’s brain a beautiful, red-hot area of activity that lit up during emotional scenes.

An Atlantic salmon that responded to human emotions would have been an astounding discovery, guaranteeing publication in a top-tier journal and a life of scientific glory for the researchers. Except for one thing. The fish was dead.

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Articles by Joe Carter

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