aivoAALTO Combines Film Studies, Economics and Brain Research
What do you get when you combine Aki Kaurismäki’s The Match Factory Girl with magnetic resonance imaging of the brain? Or financial investment decision-making with brain research? Voxel-specific data on the brain, of course.
The answer could also be “independent component analysis successfully separates activations in the visual and auditory cortices that correlates with specific stimulus features during natural perception”.
Aalto University’s aivoAALTO (“Brainwave”) project uses modern brain scanning methods to investigate social interaction, decision-making and the effects of film and music on the human mind.
Set up around twelve months ago, aivoAALTO is a joint project of the three schools in Aalto University. Results of the multidisciplinary venture are now starting to appear in the form of publications and theses.
The aim of the project was to produce significant scientific findings. Swift developments in brain scanning techniques have increased interest in brain activity within many fields.
Basis in cutting-edge research
The research in aivoAALTO is based on two modern brain research methods: fMRI and MEG, i.e. functional magnetic resonance imaging and magnetoencephalography.
MEG has been developed at the School of Science and Technology over the last three decades, and it is gradually finding its way into brain research labs all around the world.
Neurocinematics is a new foray into brain research that uses film to investigate the differences and similarities in how people experience their world.
“Film is an excellent research tool: it provides a natural and controllable stimulus environment,” explains Professor Riitta Hari of the Academy of Finland, who leads the project.
“Swift developments in brain research techniques now make it possible for us to investigate human interaction in highly natural situations.”
“Analysis of brain signals in natural test situations is an example of today’s data-based computational sciences,” says Computer Science Professor Samuel Kaski, a participant in the aivoAALTO project and Director of the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology.
“Because natural interaction is not easy to replicate – for example, you cannot watch a film twice in the same way – new analysis methods are essential.”
Neuroeconomics researchers, on the other hand, seek to identify the neurological principles behind decision-making using brain scanning methods. Focusing on the special competence of the School of Economics, this brain research project uses games commonly found in game theory as controllable decision-making models.
The different activations of the brain in relation to game situations tell us things about the relationships between reason and emotion, for example. These findings can deepen our understanding of human decision-making.
Welfare and health care require understanding of social interaction
“We cannot fully understand the human mind without examining the functioning of the brain in interaction with its environment, which is made up of other people and social and cultural customs,” Professor Hari explains.
Increased understanding of social interaction can lead to the development of applications for human well-being and health care. Our increasingly technology-oriented and digitised environment also requires information on how the surrounding world affects the brain and the mind.
From the School of Science and Technology, the project involves the brain research unit of the Low Temperature Laboratory, the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Computational Science, the Department of Media Technology, the Department of Information and Computer Science, the Department of Mathematics and Systems Analysis and the Enterprise Simulation Laboratory (SimLab).
Experts in film come from the School of Art and Design’s Department of Motion Picture, Television and Production Design. The School of Economics has contributed its Department of Accounting and Finance, the Department of Economics and the Center for Knowledge and Innovation Research.
Text: Eeva Pitkälä
The development of the aivoAALTO project can be followed at