Aug 052015

Cognitive neuroscience advancements have increasingly engaged a wider audience. While simple paradigms and traditional experiments done in a controlled laboratory environment had significant contributions into the insights regarding brain function, it is observed that our discernment towards cognition would need similarly complex realistic environments. Taking accounts from an electroencephalography (EEG) based brain-computer-interface (BCI) experiment approved by the Research Ethics Board at Baycrest and the University of Toronto, let us dig deeper into how neuroscience and art can affect the brain.


The Experiment

The experiment focuses on exploring a person’s ability to rapidly learn controlling his brain states in a complex environment. Along with an art-exhibition related criterion, this objective guided the entire experimental design. Participants received several minutes of controlled neurofeedback tests in a period that is shorter than the typical neurofeedback training experiments. The hypothesis was: Neurofeedback effects can be detected early in training, and with a large sample size, sufficient statistical power would be revealed.

The study revealed that aesthetic sophistication and technological maturity of virtual reality, gaming and multi-media have positioned these platforms as suitable partners for neuroscience. Also, it found that EEG has expanded its use outside the lab through BCI technology and interventions in therapeutic neurofeedback, as well as through other products, such as wearable devices for self-optimization, self-monitoring and neurogaming. This means that neurofeedback protocols based on brain-computer interfaces present good promises for attention, learning and creativity.

It also found that BCI applications learning was enhanced if a person would learn how to modulate his brain activity in as little time as possible. Learning is somehow associated with structural and functional changes in the brain, and despite continuous re-organization on a synaptic scale, effects on a large scale required time to manifest. Also, sensory stimulation protocols have yielded persisting re-organization of coupling between distributed areas in the brain after stimulation. With regards to cognitive performance, individual neurofeedback training sessions were found to mediate significant changes.


Findings in Detail

It is found that there were interesting global patterns of correlation between brain data and variables in demographic, regardless of conditions. This was reached by folding all condition-specific relative spectral power (RSP) measurements and gathering data from each participant across all conditions together. For headsets, researchers considered their effects as nuisance variables.

For relaxation and concentration, neurofeedback also had significant effects on these states, depending on the conditions of the subjects. Participants were found learning to modulate their relative spectral power for relaxation and concentration. Based on general results on these aspects, it was hypothesized that early (yet subtle) changes in activities in the brain are associated with short neurofeedback training protocol and would be detected with a larger size of samples.



Both novel and confirmatory findings from the experiment have provided a necessary proof of concept for a novel neuroscience research framework. By combining brain-computer interfaces, art and performance, we can now ask questions of complex real-life social cognition that are not accessible in laboratory settings, otherwise. It is concluded that the traditional approach to performing mind studies would discount the central feature of our brain being intrinsically subjective. Now, this opens interesting new avenues for research on neuroscience considering sociability, complexity and individuality of the human mind.


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