A new study, funded by the NIH and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, involved subjects having their brains hooked up to a computer displaying two images, and through thought-control, the subjects were able to make the computer display one image and discard the other.
This study was composed of 12 participants with epilepsy who had wires implanted in their brains to search for the areas causing a seizure. Wires were inserted in the medial temporal lobe, which is responsible for memory and the ability to recognize faces. Connected to a computer, each subject was shown two pictures on a computer screen and told to choose one and focus their thoughts on until it was the only one visible. Subjects had a 70 percent rate of success in forcing one image to show exclusively.
Brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, allow people to control computers with their thoughts. They offer real hope for people with prosthetic limbs or suffering from paralysis. In this study, however, the focus was more on understanding the brain’s thought and decision making processes instead of performing tasks, such as controlling a cursor, as in previous BCI studies. Interestingly, signals from only a handful of cells were needed to cause the change to one image.
As Dr. Babcock, M.D., Ph. D. and program director at NINDS said, "The remarkable aspects of this study are that we can concentrate our attention to make a choice by modulating so few brain cells and that we can learn to control those cells very quickly.” This is astounding, especially considering that visual comprehension, memories, information, and decision-making are all involved in a choice like the one in this study.