The responses to a suspenseful film clip are similar between some people with brain injuries and healthy patients. That finding has researchers scratching their heads.

Hitchcock is the master of suspense, but even he couldn’t foresee this twist. Neurologists at Western University in London, Ont., played Alfred Hitchcock’s short film Bang! You’re Dead! for patients and monitored their brain activity with MRIs. One patient, who slipped into a vegetative state after a blow to chest deprived his brain of oxygen, had brain activity in the same regions of his brain as the 12 healthy volunteers in the study. In a later study, a woman who had been in a vegetative state realized she was treated different when she could respond to her caregivers. Just goes to show you can never truly know what’s going on inside another person’s head.

Did you Know?

  1. The responsive patient in the first study was a 34-year-old man who’d been vegetative for 16 years.
  2.  Researchers examined the parts of the brain where reasoning and complex processes occur.
  3. MRIs showed the unresponsive patient’s brain was as engaged viewing a suspenseful movie as healthy volunteers.
  4. The eight-minute movie was Alfred Hitchcock’s Bang! You’re Dead! in which a child thinks a gun she’s playing with is a toy but viewers know it’s real.
  5. Watching the patient’s responses indicated an understanding of language, following plot points and creating short-term memories of activity on the screen.
  6. Researchers believe this indicates consciousness and awareness even if a patient can’t respond.
  7. This was the first study of its kind to depict the possibility of consciousness in unresponsive patients.
  8. Another patient showed no activity at all. Researchers say patients fluctuate in their level of consciousness, so this isn’t unexpected.
  9. In another study, a non-responsive woman was shown photos of relatives. Later, when she came out of it, she knew things were different.