An American team has trained a computer to "read" people's minds.

The researchers at the Machine Learning Department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh explain that the technology works by looking at scans of the brains as the participants thought about specific words.

The team used functional magnetic resonance imaging, which is a type of brain scan that can see real-time brain activity.

The computer was then calibrate by having nine student volunteers think of 58 different words, while imaging their brain activity.

"We gave instructions to people where we would tell them, 'We are going to show you words and we would like you, when you see this word, to think about its properties'", team leader Tom Mitchell told Reuters.

They then "averaged" the results for each word.

"If I show you the brain images for two words, the main thing you notice is that they look pretty much alike. If you look at them for a while you might see subtle differences", Mitchell continued.

The computer was then tested to see whether it could out a "brain image" with a word.

And it passed the test.

The next step is to study brain activity for phrases.

It is hoped that the research could lead to better understanding of how and where the brain stores information, which could, in turn, help treat language disorders and learning disabilities.