Western neuroscientists have found a new way to detect consciousness in non-responsive patients, and believe it or not, Alfred Hitchcock is at the centre of it all.
Researchers at the University’s Brain and Mind Institute have managed to prove a patient who’s been in a vegetative state for over 16 years is conscious after putting him in a brain scanner and showing him one of Hitchcock’s television episodes.
As it turns out, his brain lit up in the same areas as the brains of healthy people who watched the same thing.
“The reason why we chose Hitchcock is because he’s been dubbed the ‘Master of Suspense,'” says Dr. Lorina Naci, the lead researcher. “He has the ability to pull people into his plot and create a very engaging story from the visuals, and everybody sort of experiences it in the same way.”
“The great thing about the current method is that the patient doesn’t have to do anything particular; they just lie in the scanner and they naturally follow the movie as they would if they were sitting in their living room or lying in their hospital bed” she says.
Prior to this method of diagnosing consciousness, doctors would have to ask patients to answer questions by following different orders to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ such as imagining themselves playing tennis or walking down a hallway – something that can be tough on brains that have undergone trauma.
Dr. Naci says the findings bring hope for patients who are in the acute stage of brain injury, shortly after the injury occurs – when doctors and family members have to make decisions about their life.
“It would be wonderful if we could put such patients in the scanner at this critical time and be able to pick out those that do indeed understand the world around them, and to say, ‘hold on, this patient is likely to do well,’ and give those patients a chance,” she says.
Listen to the full interview: