Saturday, May 24, 2008

Brain, Mind & Brain Waves

Under Most Popular, The New York Times publishes a list of the most e-mailed articles on its website. Over the past month, Sara Reistad-Long's article published on May 20, 2008, and entitled "Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain" ranked second. Katie Hafner's article published on May 3, 2008, and entitled "Exercise Your Brain, or Else You’ll ... Uh ..." ranked sixteenth. Keeping your brain and mind intact is on the forefront of the Baby Boomers' mind. Wii games are advertised to entice the rusty to exercise. Numerous companies are springing up selling computer games for mental exercise. Most intriguing are games with biofeedback provided by electrical brain waves recorded from button electrodes attached to the scalp, i.e. electroencephalography or EEG for short.

I once examined the power of brain waves with EEG recordings in people reading Braille with their fingertips. In that study, waves at about 10 Hz increased most in power while the participants were reading. The greatest increase occurred in the parietal lobe opposite the reading hand. Waves at this frequency are known as alpha waves.

The findings of this study are described in more detail in chapter 6 of "Blindness and Brain Plasticity in Navigation and Object Perception." Button electrodes were attached to various locations on the head according to the 10-20 System and fed the recorded electrical signal via cigarette box-size pre-amplifiers to an analyzer. The power of the signals was measured for select frequency bands and was displayed real time in dynamic bar graphs and power-versus-time plots on a monitor. These displays can be used as feedback to the person executing the task. J & J Engineering of Poulsbo, WA, who manufactured the equipment and software sought to apply the technology mainly in biofeedback applications. I recall one application with immediate practical implications that trains patients in controlling incontinence and another that helps assembly line workers to avoid postures causing chronic pain. There are others that address the mind.

An impressive demonstration of the power of alpha waves used in a game can be found in our local Adventure Science Museum. In Mind Ball, the contenders drive a small ball along a runway electromagnetically using alpha waves recorded from their frontal lobes. The winner drives the ball all the way to the opposite end. Games involving biofeedback through EEG may prove particularly useful to keep your brain in good working order and your mind sharp.


  • Watch this great demonstration of the potential applications for brain waves that CNN aired today (02/04/10):
  • Jim Drury reports in this Reuters video on recent efforts to utilize brain waves recorded from the scalp to remotely control household appliances (10/12/10):

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