‘Jennifer Aniston Neuron’ May Show What’s On Your Mind

November 12, 2008 Updated: October 1, 2015
Look Familiar? Scientists have discovered the 'Jennifer Aniston' neuron, a type of brain neuron that reflects high-level image recognition. (Charley Gallay/Getty Images)
Look Familiar? Scientists have discovered the 'Jennifer Aniston' neuron, a type of brain neuron that reflects high-level image recognition. (Charley Gallay/Getty Images)

Scientists have discovered a type of neuron that indicates high-level recognition of images when viewed by a person. The behaviour of what has been dubbed the “Jennifer Aniston” neuron makes it possible to tell what a subject is thinking – a literal reading of the mind.

Professor Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, a leading neuroscientist and bio-engineer from Leicester University, found that this type of neuron fires in an “abstract” manner when a subject views different pictures of familiar persons, for example Jennifer Aniston or Halle Berry.

Professor Quian Quiroga, whose research focuses on Computational Neuroscience, has been examining how information about the external world (what we see, hear, touch) and our own internal representations (eg, memories, emotions, etc.) are represented in the brain.

“We can easily recognise a person in a fraction of a second, even when seen from different angles, with different sizes, colours, contrasts and under strikingly different conditions.

“But how neurons in the brain are capable of creating such an ‘abstract’ representation, disregarding basic visual details, is only starting to be known”, he said.

Since complex behaviour is stored by large numbers of neurons, the research aims to develop advanced methods to extract useful information from these data, he said.

The research has clinical potential for the development of neuro-prosthetic devices, such as robotic arms driven by neural signals to be used by paralysed patients.

The discovery also has implications for treatment of patients with pathologies, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia, and for further understanding of how perceptions and memories are represented in the brain.

The research will be published later this month.