Saturday, 3 November 2012

Devices for neuroshaping

In future posts, I will review some of the relatively inexpensive devices that are coming to the market that allow consumers to experiment with neuroshaping.  Some are "wearable" and mobile.

Traditional neurofeedback devices typically cost upwards of $500.  These devices typically rely on the tried-and-true methods of placing electrodes with Ten20 paste after abrading the skin.  Some use saline solutions for a less messy connection.  Their advantage is that you can get a good connection on any portion of the scalp and, if properly prepared, the readings from the electrodes will be accurate.  However, attaching the electrodes and ensuring that you are getting a good connection is time consuming and, if you use the paste, you have to remove it afterwards and, depending on how finicky you are, this may require washing your hair.  This is enough to deter all but the most dedicated of users.  As well, the software often has a steep learning curve.

The newer "wearable" devices, in varying degrees, are attempts to bring this technology to the everyday consumer with easy to use equipment and accessible software applications.   However, there are predictable downsides to the convenience they offer, again to varying degrees.  I have used only one of these devices (the MindWave from NeuroSky) so far, so I will have to rely on the experiences of other users to do my reviews until I can obtain the others that are available.

First, the MindWave (http://neurosky.com/Products/MindWave.aspx).  My initial reaction on obtaining the devices was that it must have been designed for children or adults with small heads.  It was extremely uncomfortable for me. (I have a rather large head--7 3/4 hat size.).  I called the tech department, and they told me that they had heard very few complaints about it.  (I am skeptical.)  The device has a single electrode which can be pivoted about and placed in different positions, but as a dry electrode it will not work on any place on the scalp where there is hair.  Since where you place an electrode on the scalp makes a difference, the fact that it can be pivoted can be seen as an advantage (you can measure the EEG at different sites), but it might impact on the standardization of the readings for the purposes of the software.  The software appeared to work rather well and was not particularly hard to understand.  However, it seemed rather inflexible in that it translated the signal only into standard bands and it is rather simplistic in associating the signals with states such as relaxation, concentration, stress, and meditation.  There is a huge issue of artifact (signals that do not really represent EEG but things like eye blinks and muscle artifact).  The makers of MindWave have turned artifact to an advantage in that you can use eye blinks to control some of the applications.  One of the big pluses of MindWave is that neurofeedback software like BioExplorer and BioEra can be used with  the device allowing more sophisticated users to use protocols for single-channel neurofeedback.  

Another reviewer (http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2012/05/mindwave-mobile-hands-on/) made the following observation:  "Yes, the technology does work. It’s just not very fun."  This is a big problem with this technology.  After the novelty wears off, will anyone want to use it on a daily basis?  If the user is out for fun alone, then the answer is probably no.  This is where the buy-in to neuroshaping may have a role in encouraging people to stick with using the device.  If users can see that this technology will benefit their ability to relax, to deal more effectively with stress, to improve attention and to meditate, they may stick with it.  But this will require credible applications being developed that can be the subject of empirical studies.



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