SPECT Functional Brain Imaging Is Not ‘Mind Reading’

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Sagittal MRI slice at the midline.Image via Wikipedia

Brain Science and SPECT Evolve: No Longer Woo-Woo Medicine

If you are interested in the science of brain imaging on any level you will be interested in just taking a moment over at CBS 60 Minutes from this past Sunday night.

In an interesting report on functional brain imaging Lesley Stahl graphically demonstrates [excellent video footage] some of the exciting progress with the actual brain ‘pictures of thinking' – thinking about specific items: hammer, screwdriver etc. Dr Just at Carnegie Mellon is one of the interviewees – in this short report they put a 60 Minutes producer in the fMRI machine, took pictures of her brain activity, then demonstrated exactly what she was thinking whilst in the machine. Good Stuff!

With fMRI and SPECT the essential key word here is “functional” brain imaging – this MRI photo >> is simply an example of a static MRI picture, not functioning, not actually thinking in process, just anatomic structure. The ‘brain action' is in the ‘function.'

We have been talking about SPECT imaging here since we started, and posted on this controversy with SPECT imaging with Carlat and Amen in May '08. SPECT can be used very effectively in the context of good psychiatric practice. Carlat supports appearances, diagnosis by using only DSM 4r – the current but outdated Paleolithic Bible – eschews actual brain evidence, and is a classic group-think defender of remaining in the box. Institutional thinking feeds on itself.

In Or Out Of The Box Thinking

Actually those chasing brain and neuroscience evidence are so far in the box the appear out of the box!

In the comments that follow on the CBS site one can easily see how the ‘Mind Reading' spin clearly terrified some folks, as the researchers indicated that we would soon have beams bouncing off our heads that would know our private thoughts. Not to worry, the benefit outweighs the risk – and the hype does a disservice to the message.

And if you are interested in SPECT applications in mental health office practice: Do sign up for notification of SPECT Training as a part of CoreBrain Training

Take a look at 60 Minutes to see what's going on, and don't fret the hype so frequently sounded on SPECT brain assessments.



  1. […] I started writing about mind complexity back in 1992 with my first book Deep Recovery after years of dealing with addiction/recovery platitudes. emotional demands and almost no appreciation of the underlying mind issues regarding self esteem, self management,  and the importance of balanced relationships for any recovery process. For the last 10 years I've written over 460 articles at CorePsych.com, exploring fresh data-driven diagnostic and treatment perspectives for mind health and recovery. More recently I wrote New ADHD Medication Rules – Brain Science and Common Sense in 2013 after years of missing diagnostic marks in my own offices in spite of advanced inquiries such as SPECT Functional Brain Imaging. […]

  2. tiredoflyingscumsbagsofautism says:

    Here is what autism is NOT: It’s not a mentally ill clever person with sociopathic fixations that feigns they are autistic (aka criminal), it’s not the Horse Boy(a boy with ADHD who ended up liking horses), it’s NOT Amanda Baggs (who has a psychogenic case of autism, as in in her mind) It’s not Donna Williams–(a woman who has a multiple personality with one of them thinking she is autistic and being so convinced she’s actually studied the definition and learned to be autistic) It’s not Ari Ne’eman (who has aspergers ) It’s not Jenny McCarthy’s son (who has laundau kleffner never was autistic) If you want to see high functioning autism see Temple Grandin (who has autistic LIKE behaviors with severe aspergers) or the movie Rain Man. If you want to see a raw video coverage of severe autism where the young adult is punching self in head or having seizures go to you tube and type in: “autism self injury” or “reality shows you won’t see on tv about autism” or “severe autism when there is no answer”

    • Tired,
      Yes, but… I completely agree that ASD is often thrown around as a wastebasket diagnosis, quite irresponsibly. Kinda like LA psychiatrists going on television and making a diagnosis of Brittany Spears without having examined her. Hearsay and labels clearly to not hack the complexity of ASD. With you on that one completely.

  3. Miranda R. Pond says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the disservice the 60 minutes program did to such an uncertain and exciting science! Remember these findings are recent and information needs time to understand its application and accurancy for so many variables we may not even know about yet! Brain imaging is fairly new and the ‘black box’ may not be as illuminated by imaging as some think…yet!
    Publicity is great, but not when it frightens the public about new advances in science/medical/educational research! Hopefully there will be follow up with new understanding and maybe a segement on nuero ethics wouldn’t hurt!
    THere will be plenty of applications to there findings, with time, I just hope law enforcement, government, educators, and parents all use ethics and well… THEIR BRAINS! when implementing the data collected from these research studies!

    • Miranda,
      Sorry to be so late getting back to you, this new blog platform came with some attachments [many] I simply couldn’t understand – one of which decided your comment was spam and thereby blocked me from reply! Ah well, it is no longer enabled,
      Thanks for you comments and staying tuned, will be getting back to blogging as I rebuild this site,

    • Thanks Miranda,
      The new brain materials are scary – was amazing to think, on the more positive side, that we could see empathy at work in the brain – yeah, was done using fMRI at a Super Bowl, but who cares, the info is great, and will be helpful as we learn more about brain physiology.

  4. Sherri,
    All of these many details are listed and linked here with many easy to follow answers references and overview posts:


    I have never had a single person in the office, complicated or simple on the surface, that didn’t receive interesting new information with SPECT imaging. The most frequent application: the most complex presentations – those stuck with years of meds, trials and just-don’t-know-what-to-do-next.

  5. Sherri Kimball says:

    Hey There Dr. Parker,

    Does SPECT brain imaging take the guess work out of Psychiatry? For example, if you have a patient that gives you information that they believe is correct, as they see it, but in reality it is not correct, does the SPECT help you, as a doctor, to get beyond what they are saying, so you can treat their issues based on facts & truths? Does it help you, as a doctor, when the patient has trouble explaining, expressing or communicating what they are actually feeling or dealing with in their mind?
    What type of people should consider the SPECT imaging & what does it cost?
    Also, does insurance cover this type of procedure?

    Thank you for your efforts in making all of us more knowledgeable.
    Sherri Kimball

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