Can artificial intelligence help predict our decision making?

March 15, 2022

VandenheeverSTARKVILLE, Miss.— A Bagley College of Engineering faculty member is applying leading edge research to help advance the field of neuroscience.

David Vandenheever, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering, is using machine learning and artificial intelligence to get a better understanding of how the human brain operates. It’s a field of research that is growing in popularity and Vandenheever can understand why.

“It’s a new way of looking at data and you can uncover new correlations we didn’t know before,” Vandenheever said. “It’s a lot more exploratory. Machine learning is great at identifying these complex non-linear relationships in a big pool of data.”

Vandenheever’s favorite current project studies brain activity preceding free decisions using AI and electroencephalogram, EEG. The project has two parts; the first part records decision making on a keyboard.

“Press the left or right keyboard button and see if we can predict with high accuracy using machine learning, whether they press left or right.” Vandenheever said. “We want to see how far before this person knows they are going to move, we know they are going to move, if that’s possible.”

The second part of the research is introducing a decision that has real world significance.

“After we’ve done this in simple left, right button presses whenever they feel like it, we want to introduce a real decision task,” Vandenheever said. “Initial thinking is to have two nonprofits and ask the participant to decide which one to donate money to. We want to see if we can still predict their choice before they are aware of their own choice.”

Vandenheever has a handful of other projects that use machine learning in relation to the brain. Vandenheever, who created a new lab entitled NERD, Neural Engineering Research Division, at Mississippi State, has always been interested in the brain but did not start research into neuroscience until a couple of years ago.

“The brain is responsible for basically everything; it’s responsible for every thought, emotion, experience, action. It’s the hub of everything,” Vandenheever said. “One day I decided to shift my research focus on the brain because I find it super interesting. It’s one of the most complex systems in the universe.”

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By Emily Cambre