Mind Over Matter: Using EEG to Improve Focus

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New advancements in EEG technology allow the average consumer to unleash their inner Jedi via headset.

The ability to influence objects with sheer brain power has typically been designated to the realm of science fiction, but new advancements in EEG technology allow the average consumer to gain insight into the inner workings of their mind via headset. EEG, which stands for electroencephalography, is a tool used in neuroscience to pick up patterns in the brain’s electrical activity, such as those that occur while sleeping or during epileptic seizures. EEGs have been used in hospitals to detect epilepsy and monitor the activity caused by other brain conditions, but recent efforts have been made to pair affordable EEG headsets with products such as computer programs, cell phones, toys, and video games in order to develop mental control and relaxation.Many of these products are being offered within an open source model, allowing users to further develop and experiment with EEG technology at home.

Amy Standen of KQED Science reports that NeuroSky’s MindWave Mobile EEG headset costs only around $100 and is powered by a single AAA battery. Paired with the Puzzlebox Orbit Brain-Controlled Helicopter (priced at $89), the headset measures attention levels by requiring users to clear their thoughts and focus their concentration to power the helicopter while infrared signals on the gadget guide its flight. Richard and Erica Warp combined their knowledge of composing and neuroscience to develop another use for EEG headsets, the NeuroDisco computer program. The program composes music based on the brainwaves read from sixteen sensors placed around the scalp—the more focused you are, the more pleasant the notes produced.

This type of instant feedback allows users to understand how the brain influences certain results and subsequently alter their way of thinking to achieve change. As Adam Gazzaley of the University of California-San Francisco tells Standen, EEG programs may even help those diagnosed with ADHD. “Instead of being given a box of pills, they put an EEG cap on and they play a video game that looks at how they pay attention to relevant information, how they ignore information, how they sustain attention, how they deal with multiple tasks,” Gazzaley suggests. Then, devices such as the brain-controlled helicopter could provide an entertaining method of developing focus and mental relaxation. The affordability of EEG headsets will hopefully lead to further innovative uses of its potential and the continuing effort to bring such technology out of the hospital and into the hands of the everyday consumer.

 Photo by David Huerta, licensed under Creative Commons.

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