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Burning ears really mean your brain is busy

Scientists now believe if your ears are burning it's not because someone is talking about you - more likely you're having a brainwave.
Researcher wears a brain-monitoring hard hat at the Australian National University in Canberra
Nicolas Cherbuin and another researcher have developed a hi-tech construction hard hat that monitors brain activity.Shane Pozzi / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

If your ears are burning it's said someone is talking about you, but Australian scientists say its more likely you're having a brainwave.

Two researchers in Canberra have developed a high-tech hat that monitors brain activity via changes in ear temperature -- offering a cheap way to assess risks for patients ahead of brain surgery.

"If an area of the brain is more active it needs more blood, which flows up the carotid artery on either side of the neck," said Nicolas Cherbuin, one of the psychology researchers involved in the project at the Australian National University.  "This blood is shared between the brain and the inner ear, so by measuring the ear temperature we can work out which side of the brain is more active," Cherbuin said in a statement.

The researchers said the hat could be used to cheaply monitor brain activity to gauge risks before a patient underwent surgery.

The bright red prototype cost $3,800.  It can be used many times in place of magnetic resonance imaging scans commonly used for brain testing.

The researchers said the hat, yet to be approved for general use, would also allow them to study the theory that some people are right-brained and others are left-brained.

The left side is often associated with linguistic skills, while the right side is said to control visual and spatial functions.

"Everything points to people often having one side that is more active than the other, but it may not be as clear-cut as simply saying someone is left-brained or right-brained," said Cherbuin.

The researchers said the hat may also help pinpoint damaged brain functions in stroke victims to aid rehabilitation.

"This technique is non-invasive and therefore may be a useful adjunct to other ways of measuring the functioning of the brain in very broad terms," said Skye McDonald, president of the Australian society for the study of brain impairment.