MIT Says New Technique Lets You Hack Your Own Brain Waves

MIT researchers say they’ve taught test subjects how to manipulate their own alpha brain waves, thereby improving attention at a given task. The key: give the participants live feedback of their brain activity.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Neuron, suggests the possibility of teaching people, particularly those with learning disabilities, how to improve their focus through neurofeedback.

“There’s a lot of interest in using neurofeedback to try to help people with various brain disorders and behavioral problems,” says Robert Desimone, director of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “It’s a completely noninvasive way of controlling and testing the role of different types of brain activity.”

The team of scientists found that by suppressing alpha waves in one half of their parietal cortex — the lobe responsible for touch, spatial sense, navigation, as well as attention — subjects were better able to pay attention to objects on a screen.

The connection between attention and alpha waves has been established by previous studies. What wasn’t clear until now, as the authors claim in an official statement, is whether the connection was a byproduct of a different process, or if alpha waves directly control attention.

In a clever experiment, participants were given live neurofeedback that described their alpha waves. They had to look at a grating pattern in the center of a monitor and were told to use mental effort to increase the pattern’s contrast, thereby making it more visible.

The contrast became more visible as the asymmetry of alpha waves in both the left and right hemisphere of the parietal cortex grew based on live data picked…

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