Strange Things People Have Done in MRI Machines

Usually, specialists use MRI scans to create detailed pictures of your bones, tissue or organs. Sometimes providers use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the tiny changes in your brain’s blood flow during activity. Medical professionals are not the only ones to make use of this technology, however. There have been several studies in which scientists make use of MRI imaging to help them understand how the body and brain respond to different things—sometimes resulting in unusual requests. Here are three odd things scientists have had people do in MRI machines in the name of science.

1. Watch Robotic Dinosaurs
Can humans feel empathy for robots? That question is not just a central theme of popular movies and video games—in 2013, it was a question scientists decided to put to the test. The study placed participants in an MRI machine and had them watch videos of a human interacting with a robotic dinosaur. Sometimes, the human treated the robot with kindness. Other times, not so much. The MRI scans showed that participants reacted similarly to both types of video, suggesting that humans can feel empathy for robots like they do for other humans.
2. Sing Opera
In Germany in 2016, researchers requested 12 professional singers, including the world-famous opera star Michael Volle, to sing inside of an MRI machine. Each singer sang an ascending scale at three different volumes: very soft, very loud and comfortable. This study showed researchers how the vocal tract moves during singing, including how those movements change based on the singer’s pitch and volume. The MRIs showed each singer’s larynx rose with his or her pitch and lowered as vocal volume got louder.
3. Get Bullied by AI
A 2003 study had a group of participants experience social rejection while receiving an MRI to see if the brain reacts to emotional pain similarly to physical pain. The people in the MRI played a virtual ball-throwing game with two other players, whom they assumed to be other people in the study. In reality, each person was playing against a computer that was programmed to eventually stop throwing the ball to the person, making them feel left out and ignored. The study found that feeling excluded from the game lit up the same areas of the brain that respond to physical pain. We know rejection hurts, but now we’ve got the science to prove it.
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