MRI: Proof of a brain in my skull

At Glasgow University the psychology students are always after volunteers. Most of the time they want someone to do a memory task, or a recognition task or something quick and simple like that. You’ll later find out that they were testing whether memory is aided by music and that you didn’t hear any music because you were in the control group. For example.


Sometimes they’re studying mental health issues and mental illnesses. In these cases they’ll look for people who have these issues and people who do not (the control group), so they can draw a comparison between them. It’ll be more like “do people with bipolar disorder perform memory tasks better after a cup of tea?” So they need people with bipolar disorder to perform a memory task, and half of the ones who sign up will be given a cup of tea first. Then, to make sure that it’s not just everyone who does better at memory tasks after a cup of tea, they need a group of people who don’t have bipolar disorder and they run the same test with them.

If you’re an undergraduate psychology student you’re incentivised to take part in these studies by being promised course credits. It’s a way to ensure that there are always volunteers for the research (even if that probably does skew things a little). If you’re not a psychology student you’re usually offered money, or sometimes chocolate. I discovered in the first year of my undergraduate studies that this is a nice way to make a little extra spare cash – it’s not usually very much, normally it’s amount minimum wage and the tasks take less than an hour, but it’ll usually cover lunch. So that’s nice.


Usually when I’ve signed up to things it’s been an hour, very occasionally two, of doing puzzles or being interviewed, then I’m given my £8 or whatever, and I go buy a nice lunch, or a bottle of wine, or a new pair of tights or something.

However, a few months ago I was asked if I was available to take part in something longer-term. I’d do an interview and then maybe two or three more, and then maybe and MEG (brain scan) and an MRI (a different kind of brain scan). Now, being extremely curious about what was inside my head, and being interested in some quick and easy cash, I agreed.

An MRI Machine

I’ve done three sets of interviews and two sets of puzzles, one of which I did with my head in an MEG. I’ve also had the MRI. Being a physics nerd these big machines are totally fascinating to me, of course. MRIs are particularly cool. When you arrive they ask you to go change into completely different clothes, just in case you might have any metal on the clothes you’re wearing and you didn’t know. Any metal will shoot straight to the magnet at the centre of the MRI, probably breaking it, and quick possibly breaking you. It’s worth avoiding.


Afterwards, the clinical physicist agreed to send me some images. So the brain scans you see in this post are the scans of my head. They couldn’t send me more because they’re still doing analysis but isn’t this cool! A full scan of a living brain! I didn’t feel a thing, in fact, I think I might have fallen asleep.

Weirdest. Selfies. Ever.

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