Saturday, May 12, 2007

Neurofeedback gets into the toy market

Just as my family has become convinced of the value of neurofeedback, the science behind it is being used to create a new generation of toys -- perhaps the most "interactive" toys ever.

My wife, daughter, and I have have benefited from sessions with neurofeedback, a clinical process that trains the mind to rewire itself to overcome attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and a host of other struggles. When an individual has one of these problems, it is sometimes due to a clustering of the brain's electrical patterns in one area, rather than a more typical distribution. These electrical patterns are observable through electroencephalographic brain imaging.

I was skeptical when my wife and daughter began going to neurofeedback sessions, but then I observed their progress. I especially considered my daughter's progress, and figured a six-year-old couldn't be faking consistent improvements in emotional stability and comprehension of her school work.

My daughter sometimes watches movies during neurofeedback sessions. With gentle clips on her ears and a sensor on her head (attached with a conductive medical paste), she relaxes and focuses on the screen. When her attention laps or she tenses up, the movie frame might shrink, or the sound might stop. She learns how to focus and relax, reinforcing the accompanying electrical patterns in the brain, thus keeping the full movie experience. In my experience, I usually have a video-game style image of a race car on a track. The more focused and relaxed I am, the faster the car goes around the track.

Lately I've been seeing news articles about NeuroSky, a California company that is tapping the brain's electrical waves to control toys. This one is from News.com.au:

In California, a life-sized Darth Vader stalks the beige cubicles of a Silicon Valley office, complete with ominous black mask, cape and light sabre.

It isn't a man in a silly costume. It's a prototype, years in the making, of a toy that incorporates brain wave-reading technology.

Behind the mask is a sensor that touches the user's forehead and reads the brain's electrical signals. It then sends them to a wireless receiver inside the sabre which in turn lights up when the user is concentrating.

The player maintains focus by channelling thoughts on any fixed mental image or by thinking specifically about keeping the light sword on. When the mind wanders, the wand goes dark.

Engineers at NeuroSky have big plans for brainwave-reading toys and video games.

(Read the full story at http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/story/0,23663,21711660-7486,00.html?from=public_rss .)

The psychologist we see for our sessions said many in the U.S. medical community remain skeptical of the clinical value of neurofeedback.

However, an article in the January 2007 edition of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry said that studies have shown that neurofeedback has produced "performance improvements in real-life conditions," as well as "improved cognitive and behavioral variables" in children with ADHD. The article was written by researchers at two Germany universities.

For my own testimony, I'll just say my organizational abilities are improving and my ability to focus on my studies (without my mind wandering) has improved.

-Colin Burch

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