Question about Psychologists and Brain Scans

If I were to see a psychologist and I asked him to get my brain evaluated/tested and scanned to see if it was in normal health, would he be able to tell me straight up if I have what it takes to do (insert mentally demanding career here)? Could he identify, based on the evaluation if I had any natural talents giving me an advantage over the average person if I take up (insert hobby here)?

I’ve only learned the basics of brain scanning in my biological psychology course, but I’m pretty sure all the scans do is look for problems, not above average quality of activity. They are usually used for diagnosis of brain injury/function problems. An example would be, they think you have a lesion in a certain area of the brain (like a language center for comprehension - Wernicke’s area I believe), so they give you language tests while a scan is being done and see if the correct areas are ‘lighting up’ on the scan or not. I personally have not heard of an MRI or PET or anything being able to tell if you’re naturally gifted at something.

As a former Ph.D student in behavioral neuroscience, I would have to say no most definitely. Neuroscience is way more in its infancy than other sciences we are used to hearing about. There are some experimental things like scans of schizophrenic people that can be measured in groups but they don’t have much relevancy to individuals. There isn’t much that can be determined from an individual in the normal range.

Would a psychologist even be able to do this? Wouldn’t you need someone with an M.D.?

An IQ test might help.


I’m in Radiology, and spend my days in the dark looking at CTs and MRIs. I agree with what you’re saying. MRI and CT and PET are excellent at detecting abnormalities, but an average person and a super genius would both get the same radiology report: Normal.

I once knew a professor of cognitive science who began having a fairly specific constellation of symptoms that pointed to a brain tumor. I can’t remember all of his conditions, but he told me that when it was happening he was pretty darn sure what the cause was, but his doctor insisted on ruling out a huge number of other conditions before he would consider getting the guy on the MRI list. (Apparently specialized equipment is one of the things Canadian medicine had a problem with; I understand the guy could’ve had up to an 8-10 month wait to look forward to once he was actually on the list.)

Anyway, instead of fighting with his doctor, the prof volunteered as a research subject in an MRI study. He got permission for his wife to watch the scan with the researchers, told her where the tumor would be and what it would look like on the scanner, and made sure that she pointed it out to the researchers. I’m not in neuroscience, but apparently if you discover an abnormality during an MRI scan you’re legally required to notify the subject about it… so the prof took a printout of the MRI and a note from one of the researchers back to his doc, and got the thing removed post-hast. ^^


  1. It wouldn’t be in a psychologist’s scope of practice unless s/he were an MRI specialist or something similar, and most are not.

  2. “Brain scans,” as noted above, will tell you about gross structural or functional defects, but nothing much beyond that. Your ability, aptitude, and interest tend to be evaluated by your self-report on cognition and career tests, plus in some cases physical tests (like a timed pegboard test).

Shoshana, psychologist