Northwestern University With advancement in technology our lives may become simpler, but how about technology disclosing possibly terrorist attack to a nation? Scientists from the Northwestern University seem to be working on a unique test which if employed in the real-world can empower law enforcement officials to achieve details about an attack such as the date, location and weapon.

The experts had apparently known all details of the planned attacks by make-believe ‘terrorists’ in advance. On gaining all knowledge of the attacks, scientists were probably able to link P300 brain waves to guilty knowledge with 100 percent accuracy in the lab. Researchers claimed to use the P300 testing in a mock terrorism scenario for the very first time. It was noted that in the current research, subjects were planning a crime and not executing it. Electrodes connected to the scalp of the make-believe ‘persons of interest’ in the lab possibly allowed the scientists to measure the P300 brain waves.

Even in the absence of advance details about mock terrorism, latest technology revealed important secret information correctly. While conducting the research, electrodes were attached to the scalp of the participants to record P300 brain activity or brief electrical patterns in the cortex. These patterns may occur when significant data is presented to a person with ‘guilty knowledge.’

J. Peter Rosenfeld, professor of psychology in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences affirmed, “Without any prior knowledge of the planned crime in our mock terrorism scenarios, we were able to identify 10 out of 12 terrorists and, among them, 20 out of 30 crime- related details. The test was 83 percent accurate in predicting concealed knowledge, suggesting that our complex protocol could identify future terrorist activity.”

29 Northwestern students who participated in the research planned a mock attack, based on details provided about dangerous weapons like bombs. The research participants had to write a letter giving a detailed account of their plan to encode the information in memory. With electrodes attached to their scalps, volunteers were made to view a computer display monitor that presented names of stimuli. Names of Boston, Houston, New York, Chicago and Phoenix, for example, were mixed up and put forth at random.

Rosenfeld shared, “Since 9/11 preventing terrorism is a priority. Sometimes you catch suspicious people entering a building. You suspect that they’re terrorists, and you have some leads from the chatter. You’ve heard they’re going to attack one city or another in one fashion or another on one date or another. Our hope is that our new complex protocol – different from the first P300 technology developed in the 1980s – will one day confirm such chatter in the real world.”

As a result, the city planned to be the target for major terrorist attack possibly stimulated the largest P300 brainwave responses. Four classes of stimuli known as targets, non-targets, probes and irrelevants were included in the test. While targets were affirmed to be sight, sound or other stimuli the person being questioned already knows or is taught to recognize before the test, probes are provocations that only a guilty suspect would be likely to know. On the other hand, irrelevants may be stimuli unlikely to be recognized.

Around 30 minutes were allotted to the participants for understanding and planning out the attack. So encoding of guilty knowledge seems to be comparably shallow. Researchers believe that real terrorists rehearse details central to a planned attack repeatedly for deeper encoding of related memories. Usage of the newly developed test in the real world may expose planned crime-related knowledge, which can further enhance identification of terrorist intentions.

The research is in the journal Psychophysiology.