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Scientists Can Identify You By Your Thoughts on Pizza and Rihanna

Who needs fingerprints and eye scanners when scientists can tap directly into your brainwaves and ID you based on your opinions about broccoli and Beyonce?
Photo via Flickr user xymox

We live in the Internet age, where hackers from the far reaches of the globe can access your most private data without even leaving the couch. Your feeble eight-character password will only get you so far, and iris and fingerprint scanners are so Mission: Impossible II. But researchers at Binghamton University are here to help, and they have developed a security measure that not even the most nefarious rogue could crack—the toughest security check in the world could rely on your innermost thoughts about Adam Sandler, pizza, and sushi.


Sarah Laszlo, an assistant professor of psychology, and Zhanpeng Jin, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, have developed a security test that identifies a person's unique "brainprint." In a study, Laszlo and Jin strapped an electroencephalograph headset on subjects to monitor brain activity and showed them images of things like celebrities, food, and words like "conundrum."

They found that each of their 50 subjects harbored unique thoughts about what they saw, which resulted in distinct and measurable brain activity, a sort of "brainprint." Based on what they observed, they were then able to identify an individual with 100 percent accuracy using their brainprint. Your love of sushi and irrational hatred for Anne Hathaway in part makes you you, and no one can replicate that. The study was published in IEEE Explore last month.

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"The key to our method is that we direct people into brain states that are likely to differ a lot from person to person, and, that we call on multiple brain networks to do this," Laszlo told MUNCHIES. "It's really unlikely that any two people have exactly the same likes and dislikes in foods, for example, and it's also really unlikely that any two people would find exactly the same set of faces attractive. And it's even MORE unlikely that two people would like all the same foods exactly the same amounts AND find all the same faces exactly as attractive."


Laszlo said she chose food as one of the metrics given that everybody has a strong and personal relationship with food. You really love some things and really dislike others. We're looking at you, tacos and tripe, respectively.

"I had the feeling that people differ a lot in what kinds of foods they like, and that those differences are very viscerally and strongly felt," she wrote. "There is some research that seems to demonstrate that there is a brain system in the ventral midbrain that responds more to foods that a person likes than foods that that same person doesn't like. So, for example, if you like pizza more than sushi, your copy of this ventral midbrain system would respond more to pizza than sushi."

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The Binghamton team hopes that their study can be used as a security test in the future. It could be used to access high-security areas like, say, the White House, or be required to use nuclear launch codes. Someday, the President's thoughts about Brussels sprouts could play a role in shaping the course of history.

What makes the technology potentially so valuable is that no one can steal your brainprint—yet, but we've all seen Inception—or coerce someone to "use" their brainprint, as thought processes would change under coercion.

So maybe someday you'll be able to log onto your computer or open up your hidden bank vault by looking at images of lasagna and Bette Midler. Food would be not only the key to the heart, then, but also to your valuables.