03 Jun 2013, BioSpectrum Bureau , BioSpectrum
Singapore: Researchers at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, have developed a computer that can read human thoughts via brain activity, when they are conveying specific ‘yes' or ‘no' answers. The researchers believe that this research could lead to dramatic new ways of attempting to communicate with patients, who are in coma or vegetative state.
The research, which is titled, 'The Brain's Silent Messenger: Using Selective Attention to Decode Human Thought for Brain-Based Communication', has been first published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
While testing the computer, researchers asked participants to concentrate on a 'yes' or 'no' response to simple questions. Participants were able to answer questions just by thinking about their answer and the system was able to clearly distinguish between yes and no answers. The researchers added that the majority of volunteers conveyed their answers within three minutes of scanning, a time window that is well-suited for communication with brain-computer interfaces.
The technology will be of use in understanding thoughts of patients who are fully conscious and awake, yet, due to brain damage, are unable to show any behavioral responsivity. The interpretation of human thought from brain activity, without depending on speech or action is one of the most provoking and challenging frontiers of modern neuroscience. By analysing the brain activity of participants, the team was able to accurately read their answers to a series of questions.
Dr Lorina Naci, lead researcher and a postdoctoral fellow, Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario, Canada, said that, "This novel method allowed healthy individuals to answers questions asked in the scanner, simply by paying attention to the word they wanted to convey. By looking at their brain activity we were able to correctly decode the correct answers for each individual. The strengths of this technique, especially its ease of use, robustness, and rapid detection, may maximize the chances that any such patient will be able to achieve brain-based communication."