Sex, Lies and Brain Scans

Professor Barbara Sahakian
Tuesday, 27 April 2021 - 7:15pm


Please note: this event features two parts:


    There will be a pre-recorded lecture available to view from 6.00pm. The link will be sent to all event registrants at that time.

  • This will be followed by a live, online Q&A with Professor Barbara Sahakian at 7:15pm.


The recent explosion of neuroscience techniques has proved to be game-changing. Significant progress is being made in how we understand the healthy brain, and the development of neuropsychiatric treatments. One of the key techniques now available to us is Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). This technique allows us to examine the human brain non-invasively, and observe brain activity in real time. Through fMRI, we are beginning to build a deeper understanding of our thoughts, motivations, and behaviours.

It was recently reported that some patients who demonstrated indicators of being in a persistent vegetative state, were actually showing conscious awareness. The patients were in fact able to communicate with researchers. This finding demonstrates the most remarkable and dramatic use of fMRI. But this is only one of the most striking examples in which fMRI is being used to ‘read minds’, albeit in a very limited way. As neuroscientists unravel the regions of the brain involved in reward and motivation, and in romantic love, we are likely to develop the capacity to influence responses, such as love, using drugs.

fMRI studies have also indicated that many people who would not regard themselves as racist show a racial bias in their emotional responses to faces of another racial group. Meanwhile, the reliability of fMRI as a lie detector in murder cases is being debated. What if the individual believes, falsely, that he or she committed a murder? Professor Sahakian’s talk considers what the technique of fMRI entails, and what information it can give us - revealing which applications are possible today, and which ones are science fiction.


About the speaker

Barbara Sahakian, DSc, FBA, FMedSci, is Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the Department of Psychiatry and Medical Research Council (MRC) / Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute University of Cambridge. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and the Academy of Medical Sciencesand an Honorary Clinical Psychologist at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge. Barbara has an international reputation in the fields of cognitive psychopharmacology, neuroethics, neuropsychology, neuropsychiatry and neuroimaging. Professor Sahakian is a Fellow of Clare Hall, Cambridge. She is Past-President of International Neuroethics Society(INS), of which she is a founder member.

She is Past-President of the British Association for Psychopharmacology (BAP), having served as President from 2012 to 2014. Barbara's husband, Professor Trevor Robbins, CBE, presented to the Society in February 2020.

Her co-authored book with Julia Gottwald entitled, 'Sex, Lies & Brain Scans' was awarded the Popular Science Book Award from the British Psychological Society. 'Sex, Lies & Brain Scans' has been translated into the Chinese and Czech languages.  Please see here for a review of the book published in the Guardian in 2019.



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Photographic portrait of Prof. Barbara Sahakian courtesy of Clare Hall, Cambridge

Event image: Prismatic photograph by Malcolm Brown