Mind Can Manipulate Digital Images Research Shows

November 12, 2012

Mind Can Manipulate Digital Images Research Shows

A field which has seen a lot of progress in recent years is that of brain computer interfacing. This is when people use their brains and thoughts to control a computer. It’s not all science fiction; this is an important area of research which has the potential to aid disabled and paralyzed people. If BCI can be developed sufficiently then it could allow an individual to have a prosthetic limb which could be fully controlled by the brain.

A recent study which was published in the journal Nature identified that people had the power to change displays on a computer when their brains were connected directly to a computer. The report was entitled National Institutes of Health (NIH); “On-line, voluntary control of human temporal lobe neurons,” (Cerf M et al.). The research was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), both bodies are part of NIH.

The experiment involved 12 participants and all were epilepsy sufferers. The participants had thin wires implanted into their brains to investigate what happened when they had seizures. This is standard procedure when trying to identify the region of the brain responsible for causing the seizures. These wires were employed to make connectivity between the computer and brain.

In this study the area of the brain connected was the medial temporal lobe, this is the area responsible for recognizing all images, such as faces.

The experiments consisted of the participants being shown two familiar objects on a computer, it could be animals, people or places. They were then asked to focus on one image and make the other one disappear just by thinking about it and using their direct connections from their minds. The monitors were updated 10 times every second as that was deemed the best match for the brain input and output.

The group carried out the experiment about 900 times and when trying to make the selected image remain on screen and the other one disappear the group was successful 70% of the time. Sometimes subjects could be successful at the first attempt.

The temporal lobe is known to respond more positively to certain images and sets off more impulses whenever the eyes see something recognizable. In the experiment brain recording and input to the computer came from only four cells in that area. Different cells responded to different images, for example two celebrity images used in the experiment were Michael Jackson and Marilyn Munroe and each one would cause a different cell to activate.

The experiment highlighted that only a few brain cells need be involved with any operation. BCI technology has become a field which researches the brain’s processing mechanisms with the aim of understanding how small numbers of brain cells can be responsible for thoughts and decision making.

The lead author of the study, Itzhak Fried, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles said, “The subjects were able to use their thoughts to override the images they saw on the computer screen”. And program director Debra Babcock, M.D., Ph.D., at NINDS, expanded, “This is a novel and elegant use of a brain-computer interface to explore how the brain directs attention and makes choices”.

The researchers’ initial step was to identify the brain cells with an inclination for familiar objects, celebrities, animals or places. The electrodes were then set to record these cells. The rate of success at the game to switch images appeared to relate to the success the participant had in utilizing that brain cell that had been noted to prefer certain images in addition to closing down the cells which did not relate to the target image.

Doctor Babcock says of the study, “The remarkable aspects of this study are that we can concentrate our attention to make a choice by modulating so few brain cells and that we can learn to control those cells very quickly”.

Earlier research relating to BCI technology has indicated that what had been perceived to be simpler tasks such as moving a computer cursor could be carried out by just a few brain cells. This study has shown that even what we consider to be complex tasks only require a few brain cells too. This study involved vision, attention, decision making and memory and yet four brain cells were ample to carry out the task.

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