Large-scale collective neurofeedback experiments could offer exciting new ways of understanding the human brain, say researchers. Jim Drury reports
Collecting brain activity data from hundreds of volunteers simultaneously could help neuroscientists develop new treatments for neurological conditions. That's according to researchers at Toronto's Rotman Research Institute who fitted Muse EEG headbands to 500 visitors at a public arts event as they played brain games inside a dome. Conventionally, neurofeedback experiments are conducted on individuals for hours over a period of weeks. But this crowd sourced approach, called My Virtual Dream, allowed scientists to shorten experiments times to just minutes while significantly multiplying the amount of data they collected. SOUNDBITE (English) NATASHA KOVACEVIC, CREATIVE PRODUCER OF MY VIRTUAL DREAM, SAYING: "Even though a lot of people were not aware, they may not have been aware that they were learning but they were. They were actually learning and they were getting better feedback as the experiment progressed. So the shortness of time in which this happened was quite striking because the existing literature on neurofeedback normally talks about sessions that are an hour long and that are repeated from once each week." The group's collective EEG signals triggered artistic imagery displayed on the dome, while live musicians on stage interpreted the data. The enabling technology at the core of the experiment is the Muse headband developed by Interaxon CEO and founder Ariel Garten. SOUNDBITE (English) ARIEL GARTEN, CEO AND CO-FOUNDER OF MUSE, SAYING: "Muse is a clinical grade EEG that tracks your brain in real time. So there are sensors on the forehead and behind the ears. It slips on just like a pair of glasses and it tracks the electrical activity that goes on inside your head. Your neurons communicate electrochemically, so when you think or do anything mental your brain waves change. We track that electrical brain wave activity from the surface of the head. We then make complex algorithms that are able to identify some of the features of what goes on in your brain." The Rotman Research Institute, run by Baycrest Health Services, is part of an international consortium building a model of the human brain. It hopes such a model could lead to new treatments for depression, ADHD, and other neurological conditions. Other large-scale crowd-sourced experiments are planned, in the hope that when it comes to brain research - two heads - or 500 heads - are better than one.