Thursday, August 09, 2007

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Simmer Down Sprinter - Biofeedback Arcade Game

Simmer Down Sprinter is a two player, sit-down, arcade style video game I designed and programmed in which players compete to move runners around a track. The game is controlled by player’s bio-feedback. The more relaxed the player becomes, the faster the runner moves around the track. Essentially it is a game of competitive relaxation.

take the role of the runners in the video game, complete with track outfits in red and blue team-colors. Players rest hands on “team-colored” arm rests. The metal contacts detect changes in body temperature and galvanic skin resistance - similar to what is used for a polygraph test. When the player is more relaxed, the video of me running the track speeds up. If the player tenses up, the video slows down.

The game accepts 25 cent coins to start, so the player will be “invested” in winning. The video includes arcade style graphics that show the place (1st or 2nd) your runner is in, track position, speed, and a stress meter. Each player gets a team color, red or blue, and is shown that video on their screen. The “red screen” and “blue screen” are separate and individual, but start in sync with each other. Players are first shown a video of their runner stretching and warming up to an exciting soundtrack of Atari-style synthesized game music. The race is then run. At the end, the winner is shown a their winner screen and the loser, a “try-again” screen. The runner in the video celebrates or laments accordingly.

Because they were so helpful in getting this huge project done I have to mention that the graphics were designed in collaboration with old friend, Richard Miller, the music by Adam Marks, camera by Jeff Pitcher, and the sensors with a team of electrical engineering students (James Rudee, Raymond Ng, Michael Rush, Daniel Gurman, and Daniel Lin). Also, without help from my wife, Cynthia Yardley in building and painting the cabinet, I would never have finished.

For those that are interested, the internals of the game are made up of two 27 inch televisions, an Apple G4 dual 1ghz tower with 3 video cards, a Teleo module, a modified 4.1 surround sound speaker set, vintage arcade game parts and coin accepter, and lots of wood and wires. The graphics are printed on adhesive vinyl with an adhesive laminate and the game is programmed in Max/MSP/Jitter. If you want to know more, I set up a seperate page –> Geek out! See how Simmer Down Sprinter was made.

Simmer Down overallHand PadsSimmer Down MarqueesSimmer Down competeTwo Upgrid screenshotsFather vs Sonsuper relaxersSimmer Down bigger view

Visit Steve Lambert's site for a video and more information

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Science finally tackles hypnosis

from Seed Magazine:

Neuroimaging studies may domesticate the long-controversial practice.

It seems hypnosis has been nearly everywhere over the past few centuries: onstage with entertainers swinging fat, gold watches; on couches with reclining psychoanalysis patients; in movies, books, and even children's cartoons. But the one gig hypnosis couldn't get was the scientific laboratory.

Until now.

The long-controversial practice of inducing a trancelike state through suggestion is getting a modern makeover by scientists armed with the latest neuroimaging tools and techniques. These researchers are beginning to offer evidence that, neurologically at least, hypnosis is entirely real.

"It makes sense that we are using modern tools of neuroscience research to understand what is a fascinating phenomenon," said David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford University. "It's good for hypnosis, and it's good for neuroscience."

The first report of hypnosis in practice dates back to the 18th century and an Austrian physician named Franz Mesmer, whose alleged otherworldly techniques for putting patients in trancelike states spawned the word "mesmerism."

Almost from the beginning, the technique was controversial.

Skeptics have charged that the so-called phenomenon is nothing more than social role-playing, its use in medicine simply another form of the placebo effect. Its employment in psychotherapy has been challenged, particularly in light of claims that it can be used to implant false memories. And the idea, espoused by some hypnotists, that hypnosis involves an altered state of consciousness known as "trance," has only made it seem more questionable.

Though experts quibble over the exact definition of hypnosis, they agree that it involves intense concentration, increased relaxation, and heightened suggestibility. In 2000, Spiegel and others conducted experiments involving perceptual and sensory experiences that demonstrated some of the effects hypnosis has on the brain.

In Spiegel's study, subjects—some hypnotized, others fully alert—viewed pictures in both color and grayscale. When hypnotized subjects were told they would see photos in color, the brain regions involved in the visual processing of color were activated, even if the subjects were actually viewing the grayscale photos. And when hypnotized subjects were told they would see photos in grayscale, the activation of the color processing regions decreased, regardless of which photos actually appeared.

Many studies have also shown that hypnotic suggestion can prompt changes in the brain's pain processing centers. Such research has illustrated that when people are hypnotized before painful procedures, the areas of their brains that process pain are less active.

"When they use hypnosis to alter perception, the subjective experience is altered in measurable changes in just the right part of the brain," Spiegel said. "When people say they are feeling less pain, they really are feeling less pain."

"It's providing objective evidence that hypnosis is real," he continued.

But scientists still lack what would be the ultimate validation of this sort of research: a distinct neurological signature of hypnosis. So far, it has been difficult to disentangle the effects of hypnotic suggestion from those of suggestion alone. Researchers must also differentiate between the brain structures that play a role in hypnosis and those that are merely involved in the perceptual tasks subjects are asked to perform in these studies.

However, scientists are beginning to make some intriguing observations, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, the brain region responsible for the brain's so-called executive functions: integrating the work of other brain structures, governing decision making, and, perhaps most relevantly, regulating attention. Researchers have long noted that hypnosis can be characterized as an extreme, narrowly focused form of attention.

Some researchers have found that areas in the prefrontal cortex—particularly the anterior cingulate cortex, which seems to be involved in attention, error detection, and resolving conflicts—change their activation patterns during hypnosis.

Scientists are hoping that, as more studies help pin down the brain structures involved in hypnosis, the phenomenon will become a more popular—and acceptable—focus of research, especially since the work could help illuminate other neurological phenomena.

"There's two basic ways that neuroimaging is used in hypnosis research," said Michael Nash, a psychologist at the University of Texas and the former editor of the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. "One is to use neuroimaging to try to understand hypnosis. But the other way is to use hypnosis to produce in-the-laboratory experiences that can be studied through neuroimaging."

For instance, hypnosis, which can prompt perceptual experiences similar to hallucination, may be a technique researchers can use to induce, and then study, hallucinations. Hypnosis might also be a tool for studying cognitive development—children are much more hypnotizable than adults—and for providing researchers with more information about attentional networks.

"As we do more and more research in laboratories, we can, in a sense, 'domesticate' hypnosis," Nash said. "The neuroscience link adds a component to the credibility of hypnosis."

So, too, might another modern science: genetics.

People vary widely in their ability to be hypnotized, but studies of identical and fraternal twins indicate that susceptibility to hypnosis may have a genetic component. Amir Raz, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, and his colleagues are now trying to pin down the specific genes that might be responsible for those variations. Researchers hope that finding a gene that modulates hypnosis—and the neurochemical pathway it affects—might finally silence skeptics.

"Part of the reason it hasn't been explored before is because of the checkered reputation of hypnosis," said Raz, who has published numerous neuroimaging studies of hypnosis. "Once you see people getting published in good and reputable journals with hypnosis studies, it's going to prompt a whole wave of interest."

Coming Soon: The PreSage Personal Biofeedback System

The MindPlace PreSage Biofeedback Package will be available early 2007.

More information will be posted here soon!

Coming Soon: The Procyon Audio Visual Synthesizer

procyon audio visual synthesizer light and sound mind machine
procyon audio visual synthesizer light and sound mind machine

Full Spectrum Audio-Visual Synthesizer

Introducing Procyon, a new kind of light and sound experience, melding a full spectrum of color choices with clean, pure digital sound. The resulting new mediaform can be used to modulate states of consciousness in rich new ways.

Its state-of-the-art color synthesis elements can modulate smoothly between fields of pure color (ganzfeld), through subtle shimmering effects, to full-on flicker frequency range up to 75 Hz. Each color channel (red, green, and blue) is independently programmable, allowing up to three simultaneous stimulation frequencies at once. This variety of innovative visual effects enables a new kind of audio-visual experience, and can closely match color to the desired mental state.

Procyon also has the ability to precisely synchronize audio material on a CD or MP3 with a Procyon program. This exclusive feature, called SynchroMuse, is ideal for use with color-work, language learning, hypnotherapy, personal growth and the immense libraries of music now available.

Procyon Features:

  • 255 shades of each color (red, green, blue)
  • Complex, multiple visual effects and waveforms
  • Frequency range: 0.1 to 75.0 Hz
  • Large flash memory storage
  • Each color channel is independently programmable
  • Digital audio interface
  • Can be controlled by a PC or other devices with its USB interface

  • Includes:

    Control unit, GanzFrames glasses, headphones, USB cable, carry case, manual, free programming software via download, and one year warranty.


    The first of the advanced audio-visual synthesizers. Pure and vivid flickering light. Programmable and expandable. Recommended for users of light and sound machines who want to advance to state-of-the-art technology.

    Healing Rhythms by Wild Divine

    Healing Rhythms by Wild Divine
    A 15-Step Guided Biofeedback Training Program

    Introducting Healing Rhythms:
    Biofeedback Training for a Happy Mind & Healthy Body.

    The first whole-body wellness program to bring together three of the most prominent leaders in the field of health and wellness - doctors Deepak Chopra, M.D., Dean Ornish, M.D. and Andrew Weil, M.D.

    Together with Healing Rhythm's beautifully interactive 15-Step Biofeedback Training Program, you will learn the tools to help build a happy mind and a healthy body.

    healing rhythms biofeedback training by wild divine
    "One of the most important tools you can incorporate into your daily life to effect not only the longevity of you life, but the quality of your life, is a deeper, slower breathing practice. The exercises in Healing Rhythms do just that."
    - Dr. Andrew Weil

    Watch your body respond in real-time, on screen!

    healing rhythms biofeedback training by wild divinePractice these mind-body techniques along with your mentors as you listen to transformative music and watch soothing visuals rippling by on your screen. Or switch to the Grapher Mode and track your body's signals as they rise and fall in synch with your state of mind.

    Finally, watch your mind & body at play on-screen during the breathtaking biofeedback events as you learn to juggle balls with your laughter, build a stairway with your breath, and meditate to open doors! Increase the difficulty level of each challenge as you begin to master your new skills and are comfortable practicing them in your everyday life.

    How does biofeedback help me to achieve a healthier, more balanced lifestyle?

    healing rhythms biofeedback training by wild divineStress is medically proven to pressure the body and takes its toll on our physical and mental well-being on a cellular level. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 90 percent of the doctor visits in the USA may be triggered by a stress-related illness. Healing Rhythms unique biofeedback program is designed to help you uncover your body's own natural ability to counter the wear and tear that everyday stress has on your health.

    healing rhythms biofeedback training by wild divineBiofeedback monitors your physical and emotional responses to stress and provides feedback that helps you learn how to activate, balance, release and recover from them for optimal health. The biofeedback unit measures your skin conductance and heart rate variability. This input drives the beautiful biofeedback challenges as you practice the meditation and breathing techniques from the expert guides in each step. The Grapher screen, allows you to track your measurements as you transform the rhythms of your mind and body.

    By following the 15-Step Training Program, you'll begin to see life changing results from the very first step.

    Transport yourself to a new state of relaxation and ease.

    healing rhythms biofeedback training by wild divine

    Begin your guided training with relaxing breathing and meditation exercises proven to be effective in reducing stress including techniques led by experts in the field of health and wellness:
    • Deepak Chopra, M.D.
    • Dean Ornish, M.D.
    • Andrew Weil, M.D.
    • Sharon Salzberg
    • Stephen Cope
    • Nawang Khechog
    • Joan Borysenko

    healing rhythms biofeedback training by wild divine

    "Healing Rhythms uses biofeedback to access your innate healing abilities to restore your physical, mental and spiritual health." - Deepak Chopra, M.D.

    Sample Dr. Chopra's Expert Training Herehealing rhythms biofeedback training by wild divine

    Sample Dr. Weil's Expert Training Herehealing rhythms biofeedback training by wild divine

    "A very special journey that will take you deep inside the inner workings of your mind and body and give you keys to a healthier, happier life." --Dean Ornish, M.D.

    Did you know... ...that the simple act of monitoring your mind & body can have a profound effect on your overall wellbeing; making you less susceptible to stress, fatigue and illness. Using biofeedback along with conscious, meditative relaxation and breathing exercises can help you undo and even prevent the negative effects that stress has on your physical and mental health.

    Watch a Demo of Healing Rhythms
    healing rhythms biofeedback training by wild divine

    HeartMath Freeze-Framer 2.0 USB

    The Freeze-Framer® is an innovative and easy-to-use biofeedback system that guides you to achieve higher, more creative energy levels, less stress, and optimal health. With the simple fingertip pulse sensor that plugs into the USB port of your computer, you can watch in real time how thoughts and emotions affect your heart and autonomic nervous system.

    This is the Health Professional Package that includes everything you need to use the Freeze-Framer with your clients. Includes a 25 pack of Client Education brochures, the Health Professional Guide for using the Freeze Framer technology, and a Practitioners Guide - Applications of the Freeze-Framer Interactive Learning System.

    More Coherence = Less Stress

    Using the HeartMath coherence-building techniques, taught in an included tutorial, you will learn how to intentionally shift to a positive emotional state. The changes to your heart rhythms can be seen immediately on your computer screen.

    HeartMath research has shown that emotions are reflected in our heart rhythm patterns. The analysis of Heart Rate Variability (HRV), or heart rhythms, is recognized as a powerful, non-invasive measure that reflects heart-brain interactions and autonomic nervous system dynamics, which are particularly sensitive to changes in the emotional state. The Freeze-Framer heart rhythm monitor was developed to help people recover more quickly from health challenges and prevent, manage and reverse the negative effects of stress.

    Simply said, The Freeze-Framer teaches you how to get your head and heart in sync.

    Using the Freeze-Framer

    The Software:

  • Several ways to display and analyze your heart rhythms and other data in real time.
  • Three fun, on-screen games that reinforce your emotional management skills.
  • Training in the Quick Coherence technique.

  • The Hardware: A rugged and reliable finger sensor continuously monitors your pulse and sends the information to the computer.

    Easy to Use: The information is then interpreted and displayed on the screen as a real-time graph of your pulse wave, changing heart rhythms (HRV) and coherence level.

    See Your Heart Rhythms Change: As you learn to get in sync, you will see your heart rhythms become less jagged and irregular - eventually looking like a smooth, harmonious wave. The program analyzes your results to give you an accumulated coherence score and a target to work towards called 'The Zone'

    The Freeze-Framer includes three fun, colorful games that are designed to support you in learning and practicing the Quick Coherence technique.

    The games offer an entertaining way for people of any age to master their own physiology, boost learning and performance, and improve their focus, attention, and emotional balance.

    Review your Sessions: Each session can be saved, reviewed and printed to see your progress in generating increased physiological balance and heart/brain synchronization. This mode of the Freeze-Framer can accommodate separate, individual files, making it useful in both single and multiple user environments. Ideal for clinicians and their clients.

    More Information:

    The Freeze-Framer 2.0 USB FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the Freeze-Framer

    View a Freeze-Framer Video Demonstration

    A Flash movie on the benefits of the Freeze-Framer
    Freeze-Framer Success Stories

    Some of the ways people have reported using the Freeze-Framer to help them in their personal, professional or social lives.
    Freeze-Framer Applications

    Using emWave Personal Stress Reliever with your Clients

    Visit the HeartMath Freeze-Framer 2.0 USB Page at Mind Modulations

    The emWave Personal Stress Reliever

    Introducing the emWaveT Personal Stress Reliever® , an entertaining stress relief technology that analyzes your heart rhythms for coherence. The emWave then uses these measurements to guide you into a more coherent state. This helps balance your emotions, mind and body. It is a handheld, portable and convenient way to reduce stress and increase performance anytime, anywhere.

    More Coherence = Less Stress

    Stress creates incoherence in our heart rhythms. However, when we are in a state of high heart rhythm coherence, the nervous system, heart, hormonal and immune systems are working efficiently and we feel good emotionally. The emWave displays your level of heart coherence in real time and then trains you to shift into a coherent, high performance state.

    HeartMath research has shown that emotions are reflected in our heart rhythm patterns. The analysis of Heart Rate Variability (HRV), or heart rhythms, is recognized as a powerful, non-invasive measure that reflects heart-brain interactions and autonomic nervous system dynamics, which are particularly sensitive to changes in the emotional state. New clinical research identifies HRV as a key indicator of preventable stress and shows correlation with a broad range of related health problems.

    The emWave includes the Coherence CoachT CD, an entertaining stress relief software application that teaches HeartMath's Quick Coherence® technique for stress relief and increasing performance. Step-by-step, through narration, animations and music, the Coherence Coach gives you the stress relief training to increase coherence levels while using your emWave.

    The emWave is easy to use.

    Turn the emWave on by holding down the red Sensor button and connect the ear sensor clip to your earlobe. The pulse indicator will flash as the emWave begins measuring your coherence level. Rising and falling colored lights moving across the center strip begin to adapt to your breathing patterns - inhale while rising, exhale while falling. During a session the coherence level indicator displays your current level - or you can press the top sensor to display your coherence ratio for the entire session.

    More Information:

    What causes stress? Find out.

    Find out where stress comes from and why you can't seem to get away from it. Find out more.

    The science behind emWave

    Did you know that the emWave is based on over a decade of research? Find out more.
    How emWave Reduces Stress and Creates Coherence

    Find out how this unique portable training device shows you how stress is affecting your body.
    emWave for Health Professionals

    Using emWave Personal Stress Reliever with your Clients

    The emWave Personal Stress Reliever from HeartMath

    The emWave Personal Stress Reliever

    Visit the emWave page at Mind Modulations

    Friday, October 20, 2006

    Boston University study: Less stress leads to a longer life

    NIH funds BU professors' research with centenarians
    Lauren Magnuson

    Not sweating the small stuff can now lead to a longer life, according to a 12-year Boston University study that found people who live more than 100 years tend to handle stressful situations better than others.

    "That ability to shed stress is an important factor to longevity," BU professor Tom Perls said. "How much of a factor -- we don't know."

    With funding from the National Institutes of Health, Perls began the New England Centenarian Study in 1994 and has since included subjects from around the world. These subjects, who must now be 105 or older to qualify for the study if they are women, answer questionnaires over the telephone and give researchers a blood sample.

    Perls said centenarians as a whole scored low in "neuroticism," meaning they rarely dwell on stressful situations and experience little anxiety.

    He additionally began an online life-expectancy calculator composed of 40 questions. Of the 30,000 respondents so far, only "60 percent of respondents felt that they were dealing okay with stress," Perls said. Seven to 10 percent of respondents said stress had a negative impact on their lives.

    BU psychology professor Todd Farchione said the ability to shed stress, while partly a result of genetics, can also be learned.

    "Both a nonspecific genetic predisposition in combination with environmental influences influence the way we respond to stress," he said.

    Proper stress management has health benefits beyond longer life, according to Perls, because untamed stress "predisposes people to depression and anxiety . . . and can increase peoples' risk for stroke and heart disease."

    He said the amount of stress in people's lives is not as important as the way people manage it. Farchione said the best method is for people to "accept their emotional response and to respond in a way that's going to be most adaptive and most consistent with the life they want to live."

    Perls encouraged discovering "what activities are stressing you out, and if they're not avoidable, what can you do to decrease the impact of that stress." He suggested finding new activities that ease stress, including faith, exercise or "even learning to take a deep breath."

    Sarah Bottrell, who will be 102-years-old Oct. 22, said she joined the study two years ago on a friend's recommendation. She said sensibility and a sense of humor are her stress strategies.

    "My greatest stress was when my mother had to have both legs amputated because of diabetes," the Marquette, Mich. resident said. "So many times we laughed about things that we knew were not laughable, but it made us feel better."

    Bottrell said she lived an average life and does not smoke or drink alcohol. A music enthusiast, she said she maintains an active involvement with her church choir and attends many concerts.

    Perls' life-expectancy calculator can be found at

    original article

    Friday, October 13, 2006


    MindBall: Living in a more connected and tech-focused world can result in added stress, and MindBall's biofeedback system may soon become a regular way to monitor and manage stress levels.

    If you're going to win MindBall, a game designed by the Interactive Institute, you've got to be relaxed. Two players sit across from each other at a table wearing headbands that monitor their brain activity. Their brainwaves control a ball on the table, and the most relaxed player wins.

    Learn more about MindBall from Interactive Productline

    Ghost in the room? It could all be in your brainwaves

    NEUROSCIENTISTS investigating a young woman with epilepsy believe they have stumbled on an explanation why some people feel a ghostly presence nearby or develop paranoia.

    The 22-year-old woman was being assessed for brain surgery for epilepsy but was otherwise psychologically healthy.

    Part of the evaluation pinpointed the area for surgery, using thin electrodes implanted into a region of the brain.

    Reporting the case in today's Nature, the weekly British science journal, the doctors say that when they sent a small current to the woman's left temporo-parietal junction, she said she had the impression there was somebody behind her.

    The person was a "shadow," young and of indeterminate sex and did not speak, she said.

    The doctors slightly increased the current and changed the woman's position from lying down to seated, and got her to hug her knees.

    She then said she felt the creepy presence of man who was also sitting and who was clasping her unpleasantly in his arms.

    The temporo-parietal junction is used for social reasoning - to assess oneself and distinguish oneself from others. - Sapa-AFP

    original article

    Neurofeedback Training May Help Normalize Some Abnormal Brain Wave Patterns

    October 12, 2006 1:47 p.m. EST

    Linda Young - All Headline News Staff Writer

    Salt Lake City, Utah (AHN) - A new study reveals that neurofeedback training may help normalize abnormal brain waves caused by some medical conditions.

    The study was published in the latest edition of Biofeedback a journal published by the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.

    According to Newswise, individuals with Lyme disease, systematic lupus, erythematosus, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and cardiopulmonary bypass surgery patients typically have disturbed electroencephalography patterns.

    Other conditions that may produce abnormal EEG patterns are fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and exposure to toxic substances or large doses of radiation.

    The study found that 75 percent of patients with Lyme disease had abnormal EEG patterns. After neurofeedback treatment that declined to 54 percent of those treated.

    The report stated that these results could be used as baseline to help therapists treat patients with abnormal brain wave patterns.

    The study focused on children with migraines. The study was done by D. Corydon Hammond, Ph.D., University of Utah School of Medicine.

    original article

    Brain waves enable paralysed patients to communicate via PCs

    Severely paralysed people can find it extremely distressing to lose the ability to communicate. While much work has already gone into developing eye-tracking systems, these can be unreliable and tiring to use.

    An alternative approach is to use electrodes implanted in the brain, but this is costly and carries an element of risk. More recently, however, researchers in the USA have developed a system that interprets the microvolt signals on the scalp that result from brain activity. And a team of design consultants has helped the researchers turn the bulky, expensive research equipment into an affordable system suitable for use at home by paralysed people and their carers.

    The novel brain-computer interface (BCI) translates brain waves into computer control commands by means of passive sensors placed on the scalp. Using such a system to operate a computer offers a genuine breakthrough in the way patients can communicate and perform their daily activities.

    Initial work on the BCI system was carried out by the Wadsworth Center, a public health laboratory for the New York State Department of Health, to help even individuals who are completely paralysed to communicate. Already the new BCI system has been shown to match the capabilities of costly invasive systems that require electrodes to be surgically implanted in the brain; it should therefore be able to help individuals who have lost all muscular control, which cannot be achieved by other augmentative or assistive communications approaches – such as eyeball-tracking systems.

    Cambridge Consultants, a UK-based company with offices in the USA, helped the Wadsworth Center transform a brilliantly engineered and technically complex set of research equipment into an affordable, easy-to use, more portable system that is suitable for the needs of patients and their carers. Field testing of the enhanced BCI system began in March 2006, with up to 10 people scheduled to receive the system for use at home or in hospital by June 2006.

    “Our device requires neither implanted electrodes nor eye movement to help severely paralysed individuals to communicate,” says Dr Jonathan Wolpaw, director of the BCI unit of the Wadsworth Center. “We are extremely grateful to Cambridge Consultants for helping us to make our technology more easily usable by

    non-technical caregivers outside a lab setting, with readily-accessible PCs and components. We are trying to take a solution that might cost tens of thousands of dollars and make it work better at a price of around US$5000.”

    For years, brain-computer interface technology has excited researchers as a direct way to harness the human brain for controlling the body and the devices we manipulate. This technology can give individuals suffering from conditions such as ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) or brainstem strokes the ability to communicate. These individuals face huge challenges in communicating and may even be entirely ‘locked in’ to their bodies, possessing no muscle control of any type. Future iterations of the BCI technology have the potential to control medical devices such as wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs.

    Hardware components

    The Wadsworth Center’s BCI system consists of three primary hardware components that operate in conjunction with specialised software. A mesh cap holds small sensor electrodes firmly against the user’s head. An amplifier is connected to the electrodes to convert the microvolt analogue signals received from the surface of the scalp into a more robust signal, which is then translated into a digital signal and analysed by specially designed signal processing software running on a laptop PC. WindowsXP makes it straightforward to connect two monitors to the PC, one for the user and the other for the carer.

    In 2005 the Wadsworth Center won the prestigious Altran Foundation for Innovation award for its use of technology to overcome social exclusion. As part of the award, Cambridge Consultants, a company in the Altran group, is providing expertise to the BCI group.

    Cambridge Consultants is helping Dr Wolpaw’s group transform its research-based system, with its inherently technically demanding interface, into a system suitable for daily use by non-scientists. One of the challenges was to develop a sensor cap that is comfortable enough for extended wear, yet allows an untrained carer to position the sensors accurately on the user’s head. Positioning deviations from session to session of more than a few millimetres can dramatically affect the accuracy of the system. To minimise the affect of any positional changes, ‘smart’ software learns the accuracy of the response from the user and applies different weightings to the signals received from the sensors.

    Cambridge Consultants pursued several alternative sensor cap designs to make them more ergonomically comfortable for extended wear and to provide a less obtrusive appearance, without sacrificing repeatability, precision of sensor placement or signal reception. Early sensor cap designs were based on those used for EEG (electroencephalogram) recording, but these use tension to ensure the sensors are held in close contact with the scalp. As such, they are only suitable for wearing for up to two hours, which is inadequate for the BCI application that calls for a cap that can be worn for 10hours or more.

    Alternative cap designs were proposed that used concepts borrowed from surgeons’ caps (that might typically be equipped with lights and other devices) and sleep apnoea headgear that is worn all night. Several iterations of cap design were required, as there was a fine balance to be struck between comfort and a snug fit. Any movement of the cap not only results in inaccurate sensor positioning, but the movement itself causes electrical noise (due to static charges) that is significantly greater than the microvolt brain activity signals.

    Finally the team established that the best material to use was a compressed open-cell foam that is the same as that used for footbeds in shoes.

    Amplifier specification

    A great deal of work has also gone into selecting the optimum amplifier to convert the microvolt signals into analogue signals for the PC. Whereas the Wadsworth Center had been utilising a 16-channel amplifier costing around US$8000, Cambridge Consultants helped the Center to establish that an eight-channel amplifier would be adequate – at a cost of around US$4000.

    A BCI system will only ever be as good as the user interface, so Cambridge Consultants helped to simplify the research-driven interface. The result was a graphical software interface with icons and sound so that patients can more readily communicate with their carers; for example, patients now can access icons for ‘water’ and ‘food’, and traverse a menu with a variety of choices by using their brain waves to transcend the language barrier.

    Patients make selections in either of two ways. In one, they pay attention to a particular icon displayed among many in a grid on the computer screen. As the various icons flash in succession, a distinct electrical response is evoked in the brain by the attended icon. The system tracks the timing of the flashes and the evoked response, identifies the attended icon and outputs the appropriate sound, text, and/or environmental control signal. The system can also generate speech from those words created on the computer, enabling users to communicate audibly with a carer if they choose.

    In the second method, the user can imagine particular movements. Even if the user is totally paralysed, this imagined action – such as moving a foot or curling the toes – generates a localised electrical stimulus in the brain that can be detected by the BCI system (Fig.1). The system then maps that action to moving the computer cursor in a particular direction (Fig.2). In this manner, the user can navigate menu structures to select actions and/or perform word processing activities, similar to the way in which people normally use a computer mouse.

    Value engineering

    With Cambridge Consultants’ enhancements, the BCI system can be used by people speaking any language, since the system uses icons rather than text. The software is provided free by the BCI group for non-commercial research uses and runs on a standard laptop computer. The design of the sensor cap is now being refined for ease of manufacture and low cost, and the hardware and software provided by Cambridge Consultants should allow the BCI group to use less expensive amplifiers. All of these changes are aimed at providing a system for less than E3900 (US$5000) so that it qualifies for financial support under USA medical insurance rules and the cost to patients is minimal (Fig.3).

    “Our mission is to turn promising lab technology into a comfortable device suitable for daily use, simplifying a sophisticated research device so that anybody with basic computer understanding can operate it,” says Andrew Diston, the managing director of Cambridge Consultants’ USA office.

    Currently the system uses one cable to connect the sensors on the cap to the amplifier, and another to connect the amplifier to the PC. Clearly it would be beneficial to have a wireless link, but tests showed that the response time for commercial off-the-shelf wireless technologies is too long. Because the system seeks correlations between the screen display and the user’s brain response, the communications link needs to operate very fast.

    Wireless technologies, however, buffer the data for too long, making them unsuitable for this application. Nonetheless, Cambridge Consultants has provided suggestions that could pave the way towards the creation of a suitable wireless amplifier.

    from European Design Engineer Magazine

    The Art of the Brain

    The mysteries of the brain inspire art as well as science
    By Laura Buchholz

    Neuroscience is a predominantly left-brained activity. This is a good thing, as the logical, analytical gaze of the left-brained has revealed much of what we know about the three-pound wet blob that lives in our heads and directs our lives. But as brain imagery becomes commonplace, perhaps it was inevitable that the right-brained among us would take on the brain as an artistic subject. In fact, as moist agar is to a bacterial colony, the dark, ephemeral, and hidden nature of the brain may be the ideal environment for artistic inspiration to thrive. And thrive it has, to the point where brain art could almost be considered a genre.

    Images of the brain have the power to shape the way we understand the mind and consciousness itself, according to Suzanne Anker, Chair of the Fine Arts Department at the School for Visual Arts in New York City, and co-curator of the recent exhibit "Neuroculture: Visual Art and the Brain" at the Westport Arts Center. "We make images, and images make us," she said.

    Co-curated with Giovanni Frazzetto, a Branco Weiss Fellow and molecular biologist, "Neuroculture" addressed three related themes: the landscape of the brain as mapped by imaging technology; conceptualized images of mind and consciousness; and pharmacological enhancement of the neurochemical self. Anker contributed to the exhibition a series of Rorschach inkblot tests made three-dimensional and distributed, seashell-like, among chunks of pyrite and other seemingly biological matter.

    "Consciousness is layered by experience, education, and connoisseurship," said Anker, adding that these levels of awareness inform the way we look at images. "This is true of scientists looking at MRI scans as well as artists looking at a painting or a sculpture."

    The cerebral cortex, the hypothalamus, the corpus callosum -- each of these parts of the brain comes with its own shape and essence, available to be probed by the artist. But even the elusive brainwave has been making -- well, waves -- in the artistic world for some time. The art installations "Wave UFO" by Mariko Mori (2003) and "Slumber" by Janine Antoni (1994) both used brainwaves as their central interactive element. In "Wave UFO," which was shown in Manhattan as a Public Art Fund project, visitors contributed their own brainwaves inside a giant "UFO pod" to create images that were projected onto an overhead screen. In "Slumber," which took place at the MASS MoCa arts center, Antoni used her own brainwaves, recorded while she was sleeping, to stitch a "dream blanket" onto fabric torn from her nightgown.

    Installation artist Nina Sobell has been making art from brainwaves since the 1970s, a time when biofeedback, alpha machines, and video were just coming into vogue. Sobell's early installations hooked up two people at a time to an EEG machine, and then connected the output to an oscilloscope. The oscilloscope images of the combined brainwaves were superimposed over live monitor images of the subjects' faces. "I wanted to create a physical and mental portrait of how people are being and communicating together in a nonverbal way that is always there, but is never visualized or realized," said Sobell, who is now expanding her work to take advantage of the connectivity of the Internet.

    But perhaps the art of the brain doesn't need all this explanation and theorizing. The brain can make for good art simply because some of the images coming out of neuroscience are mysterious and compelling. Adrienne Klein is Co-Director of the Science & the Arts Program at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her video installation "Mind's Eye" (1998) taps into the flow-chart nature of human thought. Describing the graceful arabesques of particle traces and other visual images provided by modern science, Klein said, "These images are simply beautiful, and visually exciting. Why wouldn't artists want to explore that?"

    Laura Buchholz is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn.

    Laura Buchholz

    original article

    Wednesday, October 11, 2006

    Teenager plays Space Invaders with only his brain

    By Tony Fitzpatrick

    Now, a St. Louis-area teenage boy and a computer game have gone hands-off, thanks to a unique experiment conducted by a team of neurosurgeons, neurologists, and engineers at Washington University in St. Louis.

    The boy, a 14-year-old who suffers from epilepsy, is the first teenager to play a two-dimensional video game, Space Invaders, using only the signals from his brain to make movements.

    Getting subjects to move objects using only their brains has implications toward someday building biomedical devices that can control artificial limbs, for instance, enabling the disabled to move a prosthetic arm or leg by thinking about it.

    Many gamers think fondly of Atari's Space Invaders, one of the most popular breakthrough video games of the late '70s. The player controls the motions of a movable laser cannon that moves back and forth across the bottom of the video screen. Row upon row of video aliens march back and forth across the screen, slowly coming down from the top to the bottom of the screen. The objective is to prevent any one of the aliens from landing on the bottom of the screen, which ends the game. The player has an unlimited ammunition supply.

    The aliens can shoot back at the player, who has to evade, moving left and right. There are lots of levels of play, reflecting the speed at which the aliens descend. The Washington University subject mastered the first two levels of play, using just his imagination.

    Here's how:

    The doctors with joysticks (Eric Leuthardt, seated, and Mathew Smyth, standing) engage in a game of Space Invaders.
    Photo by David Kilper / WUSTL Photo
    The doctors with joysticks (Eric Leuthardt, seated, and Mathew Smyth, standing) engage in a game of Space Invaders while biomedical engineer Daniel Moran looks on behind the computer screen. Computer science and engineering graduate student Tim Blakely (behind Leuthardt) and biomedical engineering graduate student Nick Anderson (to Smyth's left) are amused. This team, with Dr. John Zempel of the WUSTL Medical School, enabled a 14-year-old to play a two-dimensional video game using signals from his brain.

    The teenager had a grid atop his brain to record brain surface signals, a brain-machine interface technique that uses electrocorticographic (ECoG) activity - data taken invasively right from the brain surface. It is an alternative to a frequently used technique to study humans called electroencephalographic activity (EEG) - data taken non-invasively by electrodes outside the brain on the scalp. Engineers programmed the Atari software to interface with the brain-machine interface system.

    Eric C. Leuthardt, M.D., an assistant professor of neurological surgery at the School of Medicine, and Daniel Moran, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering, performed their research on the boy who had the grids implanted so that neurologists and neurosurgeons can find the area in the brain serving as the focus for an epileptic seizure, with hopes of removing it to avoid future seizures. To do this, the boy and his doctors, Dr Mathew Smyth and Dr John Zempel, had to wait for a seizure.

    Usin' the noggin

    With approval of the patient and his parents and the Washington University School of Medicine Institutional Review Board, Leuthardt and Moran connected the patient to a sophisticated computer running a special program known as BCI2000 (developed by their collaborator Gerwin Schalk at the Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health in Albany) which involves a video game that is linked to the ECoG grid. They then asked the boy to do various motor and speech tasks, moving his hands various ways, talking, and imagining. The team could see from the data which parts of the brain and what brain signals correlate to these movements. They then asked the boy to play a simple, two-dimensional Space Invaders game by actually moving his tongue and hand. He was then asked to imagine the same movements, but not to actually perform them with his hands or tongue. When he saw the cursor in the video game, he then controlled it with his brain.

    "He cleared out the whole level one basically on brain control," said Leuthardt. "He learned almost instantaneously. We then gave him a more challenging version in two-dimensions and he mastered two levels there playing only with his imagination."

    In 2004, Leuthardt and Moran led a team who were the first to perform this research on four adult patients. They were anxious to get data from a teenager to see if there are any differences between how teens and adults operate.

    "It's exciting to be able to look at age differences and see what that tells us about the brain," said Moran, who said the team plans to test more pediatric subjects. "No one has ever seen if brain signals from children are different. We'll try to determine if teenagers have different frequency distributions when their cortex becomes active. We might question if the frequency alterations are different, will that make a difference in performance?"

    Leuthardt said it is too early to make comparisons between adults and teenagers because they have only one set of teenage data.

    "But we observed much quicker reaction times in the boy and he had a higher level of detail of control - for instance, he wasn't moving just left and right, but just a little bit left, a little bit right," he said.


    Graduate students in the Washington University School of Engineering and Applied Science played major roles in the accomplishment. Nick Anderson, a Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering, came up with the idea of using the Space Invaders game to both help the patients pass the time away and garner some very useful, pioneering data. Computer science and engineering master's degree candidate Tim Blakely pulled several all-nighters to program the game into the ECoG system. "Doing this is a win-win situation , both for science and the child," Leuthardt said. "We devised this to be enjoyable and entertaining while we get groundbreaking information on the brain."

    The clinical team also played a significant role in the planning and orchestration of this research. It was of critical importance that these experiments be safe and not interfere with clinical care. The clinical pediatric portion of the team was led by Mathew Smyth, MD, assistant professor of neurosurgery, and John Zempel, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology. "This really was a symphony of expertise ranging from neurosurgery, neurology, neuroscience, engineering, and computer science which was years in the making. The end result is something we can really be proud of," Leuthardt said.

    original article and video

    Science has designs on your brain

    By Jane Elliott
    Health reporter, BBC News

    How could your brain be developed in the future?

    Should technology be used to stimulate and improve the brain - improving grades for instance?

    These are just some of the questions posed by a new exhibition at London's Science Museum: NEURObotics - the future of thinking?

    It investigates how medical technology could boost our brains, read our thoughts or give us mind-control over machines.


    It will also show how a shock to the brain could improve creativity, how a scan could reveal your deepest thoughts, or how your brainwaves could enable movement in a virtual world.

    Visitors will be able to use some of the interactive exhibits.

    One of the exhibits shows how classical pianist Cassie Yukawa significantly boosted her performance - and creativity - by undergoing EEG (electroencephalogram) neurofeedback treatment.

    This monitors brainwave activity, and gives the subject instant feedback about changes they could make to reach the next level of achievement.

    Professor John Gruzelier, professor of psychology at Goldsmith College, London, found after studying 97 students from the Royal College of Music that the technique, which involves you seeing your brain activity on a screen represented as sound and then trying to influence it, had improved performance by as much as 17%.

    Cassie, who was a student at the Royal College of Music when she took part in the research, said it had been a very interesting experiment - and had helped to enhance her awareness of the creative process.

    "I was monitored for about a year and it was fantastic because it gave me invaluable time to think about performance.

    "I was wired up to electrodes and they did two different types of monitoring.

    "I just think it was an invaluable pursuit to explore your 'creative zones' whilst free from the physicality of playing the piano.

    "It allowed me to draw on a myriad of resources, and after using it I would have a much larger palette to explore when performing and it helped make things more fluid."


    The Science Museum will also be launching a debate about how technologies like these are used.

    Emma Hedderwick, exhibition manager, said: "Researchers have already been able to use today's technology to diagnose and treat many conditions that affect the brain, allowing new insight into how our brains work.

    "But in the future, could it become common to use these technologies for personal enhancement?

    "This new research is both exciting and fascinating, but it is important to consider the ethical issues of using it to better our brains.

    "This technology is here and has the potential to radically affect what it means to be human in the 21st Century.

    "We have to think about where we want the boundaries to be, both morally and in terms of legislation."


    Anders Sandberg, research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford, said that although the technology is still often crude, neurobotics is very much a reality.

    But he agreed that increasing applications would necessitate ethical debate, particularly if children were using the techniques for enhancement as they are unable to give informed consent.

    He added that in some cases people might be found to be negligent if they didn't use the new techniques to enable them to do their work more safely.

    "If we are talking about a doctor working in a hospital, would he not be being ethical if he did not take something to improve his attention."

    The exhibition, sponsored by Siemens, will also look at fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans which can show whether a person is lying, simply by scanning their brain activity.

    If proved to be accurate, this has the potential to be used as evidence in court cases.

    But the exhibition also asks whether this form of modern mind reading could effectively end the centuries' old tradition of a defendant's right to remain silent.

    And shows how a TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) machine can be used to activate, or knock-out, part of the brain with magnetic pulses. This technology has been used to give ordinary people a glimpse into what it would be like to have extraordinary brain powers.

    The use of brain chips and brain caps - including the highly advanced 100 electrode plus Berlin version - which allow people to control objects with their brain power, will also be showcased.

    Rachel Bowden, of the museum, said one of the most fun exhibits would probably be the Mindball game, which allows users to play a ball game with their brain waves.

    "People can have a go and see how they can move the ball with the power of their mind," she said.

    original article here

    Free your mind: a scientific approach to unleashing creativity

    A neuroscientist claims he can unleash creativity by boosting low-frequency brainwaves - and he's tested the theory on 100 students at the Royal College of Music. Genevieve Roberts reports

    How can musicians improve their performance skills without even picking up their instruments? It's not a trick question; in fact, neuroscience may have hit upon the answer. According to an exhibition at the Science Museum in London, the brain can be trained to slow itself down and, by doing so, lift musicians' performances by at least one grade.

    And it's not just scientists who are convinced of this. The award-winning pianist Cassie Yukawa, 25, was introduced to the technique - known as neurofeedback treatment - at the Royal College of Music. "I was introduced to Professor John Gruzelier [a psychologist then at Imperial College], and he said he was going to change my brain, which sounded very exciting - like The Matrix," she says.

    Seven years on, she is in no doubt that the theory works. "It has had a wonderful impact on my life, enhancing my general feeling of wellbeing," she says. "And I have no doubt that it has had a positive effect on my performances. It is about a state of mind; I am now far more willing to be flexible in my playing. It enabled me to think about and explore performance."

    During treatment, sensors are placed on the scalp and ears to monitor the electrical activity in the brain - or brainwaves. High-frequency brainwaves occur when you are very alert and agitated, whereas lower- frequency brainwaves dominate during relaxation or sleep. The sensors are hooked up to a computer, producing a graph that looks not unlike a heartbeat pattern.

    The aim is to push the brain into a state of near-sleep to produce the slow rhythms, known as theta waves, associated with this state. It's the kind of relaxed state in which ideas often come to you. It occurs naturally if, say, you are driving on a motorway and realise that you don't remember the previous few minutes.

    "Lying down with my eyes closed, I was trying to reach a state almost like sleep," Yukawa says. "I was deeply relaxed, almost at the doorway to dreamworld, aware only of sounds that I could hear on headphones."

    The sound of a babbling brook was played constantly during the training, and whenever she began to produce theta waves in the parietal lobe at the back of the brain, she would be "rewarded" with the sound of a musical gong. After several sessions, her theta waves were elevated through this almost unconscious controlling of brain activity. And (although longer-term studies are needed) it seems this increase in production of theta waves never reverses.

    Interest in similar creative states is not new. Thomas Edison would solve problems by falling asleep with ball bearings clutched in his hands and metal plates positioned below. As his hands relaxed, he would be awakened by the clatter and would jot down the ideas that came to him in his drowsiness.

    Yukawa now plays in a duo with Rosey Chan. The pair practise pieces of music at different tempos, but they never decide how they will play the piece until the night. "We take a lot of risks in our performance," Yukawa says. "Things can go wrong, which can be distressing. But now I am more able to let go and respond, so I don't spend time just trying to get through to the end of the piece, but can transform those blips into something positive."

    John Gruzelier, an expert in the field of EEG (electroencephalogram, or the measurement of electrical activity in the brain) neurofeedback treatment and a psychology fellow at Goldsmiths University, has tested the treatment on more than 100 Royal College of Music students. Before and after the 10-session training programme, students gave a musical performance in front of a video camera. These were sent to expert musicians who rated the performances, unaware of whether each clip was filmed before or after the treatment. They also did not know which were "control" students who'd received no treatment.

    The results were consistent: students who had learnt to increase their theta brainwaves improved at least the equivalent of one musical grade, while there was no significant improvement in the control students.

    And Gruzelier has found that it's not just musicians who benefit from the treatment. It had such a positive effect on dancers that first-year students at Laban Contemporary Dance in Deptford, south-east London, now have theta training in their courses. And it was found to improve ability and confidence in eye surgeons.

    "Professionally, improvements in dance are seen within five weeks," Gruzelier says. "It is similar to a fast track to meditation, but more directed. Socially anxious students become more confident and outgoing."

    Joseph Leach, a researcher in EEG neurofeedback treatment, says it is a similar state to meditation, and this encourages creativity. "We try to bring about the early stages of sleep without losing consciousness," he says. "This state makes it easier for people to remember things that happened a long time ago, and musicians use memory to trigger emotions when composing and performing."

    The treatment, which boosts feelings of wellbeing, has been used in the United States to treat alcoholism. Studies have run in the UK to test the effects on crack-cocaine users.

    The best-known application of neurofeedback treatment is for people with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. But ADHD sufferers have an excess of low-frequency theta waves in the front of the brain, which shows up in a difficulty to concentrate and a propensity to daydream. So the treatment for them is the reverse, with patients trained to inhibit these waves.

    Now Gruzelier, who has set up a society to stimulate research on neurofeedback treatment, is about to start work with computer programmers to find out if the training can make them more creative in finding solutions.

    But should people fear this self-manipulation of the brain? No, says Gruzelier: "It's not an invasive treatment, just readjusting what is already in the head. Of course, I have had it done to myself before letting it loose on participants. I was in New Orleans, and had flown from the West Coast to the East Coast to hold a seminar. I was in a sleep-deprived state, and it was a very powerful experience. People saw the difference; I suddenly appeared totally refreshed."

    So, in future, will we all be able to unleash the full creative powers of our brains? "I cannot see what could possibly go against this becoming accessible to everyone," he says.

    Joseph Leach, who likens neurofeedback for the mind to physiotherapy for the body, agrees. "It is a self-driven process, rather than artificial intervention. At the moment, the treatment is given in clinics and laboratories, with an operator controlling the 'rewards' to the brain," he says. "But the technology exists to use this equipment anywhere. I hope there will come a time when everybody benefits from this."

    NEURObotics: the future of thinking?, at the Science Museum, London W7, to 10 April 2007 (08708 704 868; Cassie Yukawa and Rosey Chan play at the Wigmore Hall, London W1 on 20 October (020-7258 8200;, where they will premiere a piece composed for them by Michael Nyman

    The different types of brainwave

    * Delta (0.5-4Hz)

    The lowest-frequency brainwaves, signifying a dreamless sleep, unconsciousness or a trance. Deep relaxation occurs with delta brainwaves.

    * Theta (4-8Hz)

    These are low-frequency brainwaves, associated with creativity, internal thoughts and memory consolidation. Dreamlike precursor and sequel to sleep.

    * Alpha (8-12Hz)

    Medium level brainwaves, characterising a relaxed, waking state with no drowsiness. Alpha brainwaves in the right-hand side of the brain should occur 10 to 15 per cent more than in the left-hand side in order to ensure a sense of wellbeing. Training left alpha levels down can be a way to treat depression.

    * Low beta/sensorimotor rhythm (12-14Hz)

    These brainwaves are characterised by a state of being relaxed but alert, focused and attentive. They occur most often when the body is inactive, and they reduce the urge to move. It is believed that sufferers of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy can be helped by increasing these brainwaves.

    * Beta (16-30Hz)

    These high-level brainwaves are suggestive of alertness or agitation. A person is aware of self and surroundings, alert and active, with increased mental ability and focus.

    original article here

    Teenager moves video icons by imagination

    ST. LOUIS, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- A U.S. boy has become the first teenager to play a two-dimensional video game using only the signals from his brain to make movements.

    Washington University researchers say the unidentified 14-year-old St. Louis boy's achievement might lead to creation of biomedical devices that can control artificial limbs, enabling the movement of a prosthesis by just thinking about it.

    Researchers placed a grid on the boy's brain to record brain surface signals -- an interface technique that uses electrocorticographic activity. Engineers programmed the video game -- Space Invaders -- to interface with the brain-machine interface system.

    Researchers said the youth, who suffers from epilepsy, mastered the first two levels of the game rapidly, learning nearly instantaneously. He was then presented with a more challenging version and he again mastered two levels quickly, merely by thinking about his movements.

    The study was led by Dr. Eric Leuthardt, assistant professor of neurological surgery, and Daniel Moran, assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

    The research involved neurosurgery, neurology, neuroscience, engineering, and computer science, Leuthardt said, adding, "The end result is something we can really be proud of."

    Copyright 2006 by United Press International. All Rights Reserved.

    Original Article

    Meditation Gives Brain a Charge, Study Finds

    By Marc Kaufman
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, January 3, 2005; Page A05

    Brain research is beginning to produce concrete evidence for something that Buddhist practitioners of meditation have maintained for centuries: Mental discipline and meditative practice can change the workings of the brain and allow people to achieve different levels of awareness.

    Those transformed states have traditionally been understood in transcendent terms, as something outside the world of physical measurement and objective evaluation. But over the past few years, researchers at the University of Wisconsin working with Tibetan monks have been able to translate those mental experiences into the scientific language of high-frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, or coordination. And they have pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex, an area just behind the left forehead, as the place where brain activity associated with meditation is especially intense.

    "What we found is that the longtime practitioners showed brain activation on a scale we have never seen before," said Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the university's new $10 million W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior. "Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance." It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine.

    Scientists used to believe the opposite -- that connections among brain nerve cells were fixed early in life and did not change in adulthood. But that assumption was disproved over the past decade with the help of advances in brain imaging and other techniques, and in its place, scientists have embraced the concept of ongoing brain development and "neuroplasticity."

    Davidson says his newest results from the meditation study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in November, take the concept of neuroplasticity a step further by showing that mental training through meditation (and presumably other disciplines) can itself change the inner workings and circuitry of the brain.

    The new findings are the result of a long, if unlikely, collaboration between Davidson and Tibet's Dalai Lama, the world's best-known practitioner of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama first invited Davidson to his home in Dharamsala, India, in 1992 after learning about Davidson's innovative research into the neuroscience of emotions. The Tibetans have a centuries-old tradition of intensive meditation and, from the start, the Dalai Lama was interested in having Davidson scientifically explore the workings of his monks' meditating minds. Three years ago, the Dalai Lama spent two days visiting Davidson's lab.

    The Dalai Lama ultimately dispatched eight of his most accomplished practitioners to Davidson's lab to have them hooked up for electroencephalograph (EEG) testing and brain scanning. The Buddhist practitioners in the experiment had undergone training in the Tibetan Nyingmapa and Kagyupa traditions of meditation for an estimated 10,000 to 50,000 hours, over time periods of 15 to 40 years. As a control, 10 student volunteers with no previous meditation experience were also tested after one week of training.

    The monks and volunteers were fitted with a net of 256 electrical sensors and asked to meditate for short periods. Thinking and other mental activity are known to produce slight, but detectable, bursts of electrical activity as large groupings of neurons send messages to each other, and that's what the sensors picked up. Davidson was especially interested in measuring gamma waves, some of the highest-frequency and most important electrical brain impulses.

    Both groups were asked to meditate, specifically on unconditional compassion. Buddhist teaching describes that state, which is at the heart of the Dalai Lama's teaching, as the "unrestricted readiness and availability to help living beings." The researchers chose that focus because it does not require concentrating on particular objects, memories or images, and cultivates instead a transformed state of being.

    Davidson said that the results unambiguously showed that meditation activated the trained minds of the monks in significantly different ways from those of the volunteers. Most important, the electrodes picked up much greater activation of fast-moving and unusually powerful gamma waves in the monks, and found that the movement of the waves through the brain was far better organized and coordinated than in the students. The meditation novices showed only a slight increase in gamma wave activity while meditating, but some of the monks produced gamma wave activity more powerful than any previously reported in a healthy person, Davidson said.

    The monks who had spent the most years meditating had the highest levels of gamma waves, he added. This "dose response" -- where higher levels of a drug or activity have greater effect than lower levels -- is what researchers look for to assess cause and effect.

    In previous studies, mental activities such as focus, memory, learning and consciousness were associated with the kind of enhanced neural coordination found in the monks. The intense gamma waves found in the monks have also been associated with knitting together disparate brain circuits, and so are connected to higher mental activity and heightened awareness, as well.

    Davidson's research is consistent with his earlier work that pinpointed the left prefrontal cortex as a brain region associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions. Using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) on the meditating monks, Davidson found that their brain activity -- as measured by the EEG -- was especially high in this area.

    Davidson concludes from the research that meditation not only changes the workings of the brain in the short term, but also quite possibly produces permanent changes. That finding, he said, is based on the fact that the monks had considerably more gamma wave activity than the control group even before they started meditating. A researcher at the University of Massachusetts, Jon Kabat-Zinn, came to a similar conclusion several years ago.

    Researchers at Harvard and Princeton universities are now testing some of the same monks on different aspects of their meditation practice: their ability to visualize images and control their thinking. Davidson is also planning further research.

    "What we found is that the trained mind, or brain, is physically different from the untrained one," he said. In time, "we'll be able to better understand the potential importance of this kind of mental training and increase the likelihood that it will be taken seriously."

    From the Washington Post here

    The StressEraser

    The StressEraser is a small, portable and accurate biofeedback stress reduction device. It works by helping you relax your body and calm your mind by guiding you to change your breathing and your focus.

    What you see on the screen is a wave which represents the pattern of your pulse rate. A series of triangles appear on the screen that work as cues to modify your breathing. The StressEraser is designed to guide your breathing with these cues.

    Proper breathing changes the way your body responds to stress. When we become stressed too often, our nerves respond faster and more strongly to stress. We become stressed more easily, more quickly, and more intensely.

    Proper breathing changes the way your body responds to stress. The StressEraser measures the effects of breathing on the parasympathetic system, and uses this information to guide you into relaxation.