Marcel Just of Carnegie Mellon University, P.A, has been experimenting with evidence based tests for psychiatric illnesses. Subjects were asked to imagine one of 16 actions, such as “hugging” or “adoring”, while their brains were scanned. People with autism were seen to have a less active posterior cingulate region than people without the condition.

The findings may extend to other conditions. It is early days but a interesting development, particularly as symptom based diagnoses are often viewed as unreliable and subjective.

The benefits are obvious, the possible negative influences less so. But it is worth saying again that “I am more an my disease”. I am more than my diagnosis. What if the scan suggests autism or depression when I show no symptoms of either? What do we tell the patient? How can we respect the rights of patients by not inadvertently scanning for conditions without their permission? These are just a few of questions of ethics ahead.

New Scientist, Dec 6th 2014