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New test spots ‘hidden consciousness’ in severely injured brains

For the past decade, researchers and clinicians have used functional magnetic resonance imaging to spot complex brain activity in patients with severe brain damage who appear to be in a vegetative state and are thus unable to respond physically. Now, researchers have devised a simpler and less expensive test for “covert consciousness,” The Scientist reports. Using electroencephalography technology, in which a net of electrodes is attached to the scalp to measure electrical activity in the brain, scientists examined how injured brains respond to hearing someone speak their native language, they report this week in Current Biology. Several of the patients with severe injuries had the same patterns of brain activity as healthy people in response to hearing human speech, which the researchers say brings us closer to a more effective consciousness test.

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