Archive for December, 2007

A year of research and development. Dr. Huang’s work, Mind WorkStation and more.

From an outside perspective, 2007 has been a quiet year. We’ve been focused so much on research and development that we’ve neglected to release any new products.

Behind the scenes, it has been our busiest year to date.

At the beginning of 2007, we were preparing for the Windows Vista launch, making sure our products were compatible. Additionally, we attended a conference where Dr. Huang (Tina) presented her findings for the first time.

Tina has been continuing to work very hard on her study, along with psychology professor Christine Charyton, PhD. We’ve had a lot of emails asking what is taking so long. Research takes a while. If you want a paper to pass peer review, get published in a reputable journal, and have a big impact, it has to be well written and based on solid science. It is a slow, laborious and expensive process.

But this study is worth it. It is packed with useful information. The effects of brainwave entrainment (BWE) on a variety of tests have been analyzed, yielding some very interesting results and answering some important questions. Which protocols affect verbal performance over non-verbal? Which protocols are best for certain types of memory – auditory, visual, sequential, and so on? Which protocols enhance immediate recall, and which reduce it? What types of headaches can be relieved using BWE? (muscle contraction, sinusitis, migraine, etc).  What protocols have the greatest effect on attention, impulsivity, distractibility, and so on? I found one instance particularly fascinating, where there was an improvement in anger control but no effect on aggressiveness!

This is vital information that will advance the effectiveness of all BWE products in the future.

It is important to note that not only were positive results analyzed, but also negative results and studies that you will never find in marketing material or even in most books on this subject. Just as it is essential to know which protocols work for a certain condition, we feel that it is perhaps more crucial to know what protocols don’t work as intended, and could act contrary to the goal of the session.

I’m happy to report that earlier this month Tina’s paper was accepted into a prestigious peer reviewed journal with a great reputation. I will give you the details of it’s publication date as soon as I can. It is up to the journal as to when it is published, and I don’t want to step on any toes by releasing too much information too soon.

Tina and I both believe this study will be a major milestone for this field. There has never been a more comprehensive review than this, and it will draw a lot of attention to this technology. Years from now you will see this study quoted in nearly every book and subsequent study on entrainment that is released.

Along with research, we’ve also been working on development. Mind WorkStation is our latest upcoming project. I admit that I expected to have it out by now, having released the beta version in the summer. What’s the hold up? There is a lot in MWS that is completely new. There are parts of it I have been working many years perfecting. I’ve also had to work very closely with others in the field to implement many of the features, such as linking up with biofeedback and EEG hardware. One of the major goals in the creation of MWS is to inspire research. Up until this, it has simply been too difficult and expensive to experiment in this field. It usually involved building a separate device or programming something from the ground up. In MWS, there’s not a whole lot you can’t do. It is built for flexibility. For what you can’t do with the built in features, we’ve implemented a plugin interface that makes it pretty easy for programmers to interact with the application, without having to worry about signal processing or connecting to the myriad of hardware devices on the market. MWS does all that for you. With the help of our beta testers, I think we’ve nailed down a pretty slick and intuitive interface as well.

We’re just finishing it up now and expect to release it in January ’08.

Finally, throughout the year I’ve been working closely with our partners and others in the industry. They are all as busy as we are, researching, developing. Some truly fantastic hardware advances are expected early next year, and we’ve helped develop some of them.

2008 will be an incredibly exciting year for this industry.

Until then, have a happy new year everyone. Cynthia and I are ringing in the new year with sushi and Karaoke!

The effect of belief on intelligence

A unique and fascinating new study was released this year by Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, researching the effects of belief on cognitive performance.

The results: children who believed that intelligence was malleable and could be improved were much more likely to perform well in school. Children who believed intelligence was something set in stone – a genetic gift from birth that never changes – did not perform as well.

To test this, Dweck separated one hundred 7th grade students into 2 equal groups. All students had suffering math scores. One group was taught good studying habits, the other was taught about the plasticity of the brain, and how the brain can change; new neural connections can be formed and intelligence can actually be increased.

At the end of the semester, the children who had the crash course in neuroscience ended up performing better than those who were taught study skills! This is because their beliefs about intelligence had changed.

Here’s some excerpts from an article on this:

“Some students start thinking of their intelligence as something fixed, as carved in stone,” Dweck says. “They worry about, ‘Do I have enough? Don’t I have enough?'”

Dweck calls this a “fixed mindset” of intelligence.

“Other children think intelligence is something you can develop your whole life,” she says. “You can learn. You can stretch. You can keep mastering new things.”

She calls this a “growth mindset” of intelligence.  

“When they studied, they thought about those neurons forming new connections,” Dweck says. “When they worked hard in school, they actually visualized how their brain was growing.”

“We saw among those with the growth mindset steadily increasing math grades over the two years,” she says. But that wasn’t the case for those with the so-called “fixed mindset.” They showed a decrease in their math grades.

“If you think about a child who’s coping with an especially challenging task, I don’t think there’s anything better in the world than that child hearing from a parent or from a teacher the words, ‘You’ll get there.’ And that, I think, is the spirit of what this is about.”

In the articles on our website, we’ve been talking for years about how beliefs can work for or against your cognitive performance. Many people who approach us with cognitive issues want to focus only on the neurological or physiological aspect of that. Often, after a few months of work, it becomes apparent that a psychological approach is needed – the physiology is right for peak performance, but the belief system keeps the brain stuck in first gear. Negative beliefs about one’s intelligence can often be very hard to counteract. This study is useful in that it shows that merely learning more about the brain can help give your brain the boost it needs to make real progress.

NPR has a nice broadcast of this new research online:

Antique mind machines

Brainwave entrainment has evolved a lot since its inception.

The very first mind machine was arguably created by the French psychologist Pierre Janet in the late 19th century. It was little more than a wheel with spokes that rotated in front of a lantern. Yet, it seemed to be immensely helpful in calming his mentally ill and otherwise hysterical patients.

One of the first commercially available mind machines came some time later in the late 1950’s. Its construction was inspired by reports from radar operators aboard submarines, who found themselves falling into deep, relaxed, trance-like states after staring at flickering radar screens for extended periods. Dr. Sidney Schneider was one of the researchers to analyze these effects, and he went on to create the “Brain Wave Synchronizer”, a 15-pound metal suitcase with a giant lightbulb and knobs for frequency control.

Larry Minikes, of A/V Stim, contacted me last week after having found an original Brain Wave Synchronizer unit. He was kind enough to take some pictures for us. These are the first pictures of this unit available on the internet.

^ Brain Wave Synchronizer compared to a modern mind machine. Today’s audio/visual devices can literally fit in the lid of the Brain Wave Synchronizer.

^ Close up of the frequency control knobs.

Despite being very large and clunky, the Brainwave Synchronizer enjoyed a lot of success. It was tested on over 2,500 patients between 1957 and 1958. Schneider initially intended to use it as an aide to hypnosis – kind of an advanced version of the stereotypical “hypnotic spiral”. 

It was also involved in some of the first clinical research into brainwave entrainment:

Dr. William Kroger used it to help 200 female subjects enter hypnosis to assist in childbirth at Chicago’s Edgewater Hospital.

In 1963, Dr. M.S. Sadove of the University of Illinois, reported a 90% success rate at reducing anesthesia during surgery while using this device.  

Bernard Margolis used it in the first brainwave entrainment dental study in 1966, which reported less need for anesthesia, less bleeding, and less fear and anxiety.

This matches the reports we get today from doctors using our software.

Then and Now

Because the Brain Wave Synchronizer used a light bulb instead of the LED-based glasses we enjoy today, this device had the potential to unintentionally affect those around the intended subject. In 1963, Schneider demonstrated his device in front of an audience and C. Lawerenz of Hypnosis Quarterly. Lawerenz later reported that not only did the subject enter a relaxed trance, but so did the first row of the audience!

It is demonstrations like this that prompted the creation of the strobe lights we see used so often in rock concerts and dance clubs today. The frequencies used in those cases are usually not fast enough to do what the Brain Wave Synchronizer did, but it is interesting to observe that mind machines are the grandparents of strobe lights used all over the world.

Another way this field has evolved: Price. Here is an old advertisement for the Brain Wave Synchronizer:

498 dollars! Given inflation since the early 1960’s, that would be well over $3000 today!

These days brainwave entrainment devices range from $100-$600. You can even use your computer as the stimulator. We’ve come a long way. Still, with the advancements coming in the near future, I can easily see existing mind machines becoming as antique and charming as this one.