Archive for 'Neuro-Arts'

Mattel gets into the EEG business

A new brain gaming toy is coming out later this year, in the same vein as the Emotiv Headset and MindBall. This one is from an established toy company, Mattel. 

Yes, Mattel. From the people who brought you Hot Wheels, you will soon be able to purchase an EEG and accompanying game set.

Check out the video demonstration:


Read more about it here.

The sensors measure theta-wave activity in your brain; the waves are directly related to your level of focus and concentration. The sensors register the theta-wave activity, translate that activity into a signal, and transmit it as a radio frequency to the Mind Flex.

The more theta-wave activity there is, the faster the little fan in the unit will spin. The speed the fan spins at, and therefore moves the ball, is based on how hard you concentrate. The faster the fan spins, the higher the ball goes along the Z axis. Turn a dial and move the ball along the X and Y axis.

Mental drumming

The Scientist released article today about a show in New York called “Trio for percussion and brain waves”.

The show consisted of three percussionists using their thoughts of drumming to create the performance. Their brain activity was measured, and certain spikes in that activity caused the instruments to play.

The fascinating part, to me, is that this was a trio – three people on stage, harmonizing with each other, using nothing but brainwaves.

From the article:

As a rapt audience watched, sounds issued from three laptops connected to the drummers by Bluetooth technology. The musicians’ brainwaves traveled through the air, triggering tones from the computers before leaping to life on the 12-foot-high screen hanging behind them.

The performance was part of an experiment designed by David Sulzer, Columbia University neuroscientist. It demonstrated Sulzer’s idea that thinking about an action could stimulate the brain in much the same way as actually carrying it out. 


When one of the three musicians started a mental music piece and the other two tried to accompany it, the brainwaves of the three synced up intermittently. “That was because they constantly needed to catch up with each other,” said Sulzer.

Here’s the article: 

David Sulzer explains the process behind this more in a video here:

The ideal tempo of music, and how we perceive it

Cognitive Daily has an interesting series of posts on tempo and how it is detected. Since tempo is a relevant topic here, I thought I would pass it along.

Here are some excerpts:

They took 23 Scottish fiddle songs and played them on a synthesizer as marked in their musical scores. They then artificially slowed and speeded each tune’s tempo by 10, 20, and 30 beats per minute. Student volunteers listened to each song, as well as the original version, in random order (so they weren’t listening to the same song over and over again). They were simply asked if the song sounded too slow or too fast.


An analysis of the measurable musical features of the songs found that most features (for example, whether the music was in a major or minor key) bore no significant relationship to the ideal tempo of the song. The only feature that did correlate significantly was the number of descending intervals, which correlated with tempo at r = 0.49.

So how is the optimal tempo picked?

Do we have an internal clock that runs at 100 beats per minute? Quinn and Watt’s results suggest that if we do, we don’t apply it willy-nilly to every song we hear. Instead, something about content of the songs suggests an appropriate tempo. While their research doesn’t give us a definitive answer as to what that tempo might be, they do have some hunches. If a song has many “strong” events — events that vary simultaneously across several musical dimensions — then the authors suggest that these sorts of songs might be preferred at a slow tempo, compared to songs filled with weak events. Listeners want to savor those nuances, and can only do so when the song is played slowly enough.

While the makeup of an ideal tempo is still being investigated, it is clear that people are extremely accurate at remembering tempo and detecting tempo changes, but only within certain parameters.  From personal experience, I know that extending a tempo change over 5 or 6 minutes can make it barely noticeable. This is one feature of an effective relaxation session, where easily detectable changes in tempo can act to keep the listener too engaged to relax or sleep.

However, in some cases tempo changes are used in the middle of a session to keep the user awake. This is a common practice for the middle of theta sessions, where many people find themselves dozing off. Modulating the tempo up and down within the theta range is a good way to keep the listener conscious, but still relaxed.

Here are the links to the Cognitive Daily posts. As usual, they have uploaded some online tests to replicate the results of the studies. Try them out for yourself:

A music concert created with the brainwaves of the audience

From an outside perspective, this “concert” would look more like a gathering of cyborgs. But for those involved it is the holy grail of audience participation – using the brainwaves of the audience to produce music.


Brain Video: EEG used to control virtual avatars in Second Life

In this video, an EEG device is being used to control the movement of an online avatar, or digital “you”, bringing us a tiny bit closer to a truly virtualized world (e.g. The Matrix).


Music based on mood, emotions – Pandora for auditory stimulation

Many of us have already become hopelessly addicted to Pandora ( which utilizes the Music Genome Project technology. The idea is to provide Pandora with the name of a band or song you enjoy. From this Pandora will suggest an array of similar musical works for your enjoyment, kind of like an advanced version of Amazon’s product recommendation system.

These days I pretty much rely solely on Pandora to expand my music collection. It’s a fantastic tool for people who are short on hip, audiophile friends.

Today I came upon a new site with a similar concept, but a much different approach, called Musicovery.

Instead of seeding the service with a song or band you like, with Musicovery you choose the mood or emotion behind the music you would like to hear.

Pick somewhere between the moods “Energetic” and “Positive”, and you get songs by ABBA, Prince and Moby. Choose a spot between the moods “Dark” and “Calm”, and you get songs by Portishead, Sheryl Crow and the Cranberries.

Being able to choose the mood of your music is an intriguing concept, and I’m curious as to how people will apply it. Like most people, my musical selections usually tend to more or less match my mood, but there are exceptions. Maybe I’m an oddity, but sometimes when I’m in a exceptionally good or energetic mood, I’ll feel the urge for slower, sappier music. Maybe I’m subconsciously looking for something to balance out all that energy.

There are also some other useful features to Musicovery such as the ability to choose between genres and eras of contemporary music.

I’m disappointed that – like Pandora – Musicovery doesn’t seem to offer the option to listen to the customized stream in an external player. This type of system could be an incredibly useful tool in Mind Stereo. Hopefully in the future we’ll see this, but I understand that such services often have very restricting deals with the ever-nefarious RIAA.

EEG-Generated 3D artwork under hypnosis

There is something irresistible about the brain’s electrical activity that continues to inspire new researchers to bridge the gap between science and art, or between medical research and entertainment.

The idea has been explored for decades. A few months ago, browsing around YouTube, I found a video of Yoko Ono and John Lennon experimenting with EEG-assisted music creation on some talk show (I was not able to locate this video later, unfortunately). We’ve explored this topic here a number of times before, such as in this entry where EEG is used to compose music, create images, control games and robots.

As old as this type of research is, the allure of pure thought flowing into a form of art remains as attractive as ever to new researchers. And, the technology behind it continues to advance.

Perhaps in the future there will be a way for an audience to experience such artwork in the same technologically advanced way in which it was created.

Here is the latest installment into the category of brainwave-art.

It is called “Shapes of Thought”.

Participants are put into a hypnotic state and asked to recall various memories in order to create pure emotional states. The hypnotic state is induced to make the recollection both easier and more realistic.

EEG activity is then recorded and filtered to create unique 3D shapes. Here is an example:

This image was formed after asking a participant to recall a traumatic incident where he was seriously injured.

You can find more on their website, here:

Music as a pain killer

I stumbled upon an article today based on the research of professor Marion Good, who has found that music can enhance the effects of pain killers. This falls in line with the research of Daniel Levitin, who I talked about in the recent Music and the brain article. According to Levitin, music stimulates the release of dopamine, our brain’s natural pleasure drug. Good’s research suggests it can also help in pain reduction.

“Good has been testing music with post-operative patients for more than 15 years. “I found that music does reduce pain up to about 31 percent in my studies, in addition to medication,” she says.

Now the conclusion of a systematic analysis combining 51 clinical studies is music to her ears. The Cochrane Review of Evidence-Based Healthcare found that patients exposed to music rate their pain as less intense and even use lower doses of painkillers.

Here is the article, including a video:


Music and the Brain

Music has a special place in the world of brain science. If you take away human actions required for survival (breathing, eating, sleeping), listening to music may be the most universal human activity on the planet. Every culture in the world has it, and nearly everyone enjoys listening to some form of music.

There is a new and interesting branch of Neuroscience emerging called Neuroesthetics, which focuses on understanding the neurological mechanisms behind music, among other subjective sensory experiences such as art, gourmet food and sweet smelling perfumes. In a study by Dr. Levitin, a former rock music producer turned neuropsychologist, 13 subjects were analyzed under an MRI while listening to classical music. First, the music triggered various areas of the forebrain, as the sound was analyzed, broken down into rhythm, tone, structure, etc. Then, more importantly, the brain’s pleasure centers were activated, releasing dopamine to give a sense of pleasure and reward!

It is because music results in the release of pleasurable chemicals, Levitin supposes, that memories of music become so sharp. Ask anyone to hum one of their favorite songs and it is likely they will remember nearly every note and rhythm change. Considering how complex music actually is, this is quite a feat!

Pleasure centers being activated also helps explain the universal appeal of music, and the profound impact it can have on mood. What is particularly interesting is that all this seems hard wired into us. Not our musical preference, obviously – that is cultural – but the fact that everyone responds to some form of music is highly unique. Why are we built to love music? This is yet to be determined.

Music and your personality

As John Cusack said in the music-centered romantic comedy High Fidelity:

“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like”.

Perhaps because music is so universal, it is also one of the most popular topics of conversation, particularly with people who are just getting to know one another.

In a study by Rentfrow and Gosling, called “The Role of Music Preferences in Interpersonal Perception”, subjects were asked to get to know one another over a 6 week period. Their topics of conversation were noted. By far, music was the most prevalent, with 58% of participants discussing music.

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, there is something intimately revealing about a person’s musical tastes. Your personal top 10 list may reveal more about you than talking at length about hundreds of other topics. The study tried to codify this by having all the participants take a standardized personality test.

Here are some general correlations mentioned:

– Likes vocals: Extraverted

– Likes country music: Emotionally stable

– Likes jazz music: Intellectual

Personally, I enjoy vocals but tend to focus on the music itself as the base for my musical preference. I’m fairly introverted, so I suppose for me that fits. However, while I respect the enormous technical mastery it takes to play jazz, it has never struck an emotional chord with me. Am I unintellectual? These results are kind of confusing to me, but then it doesn’t seem like many other genres were analyzed – or at least they weren’t mentioned. I would love to see more studies go into this.

I have never really asked myself why I prefer a certain type of music. In many ways it is cultural for me, growing up in a musical family, with my father in a celtic/folk band that would play every Sunday. In another way, it is technical – because I can play music, I appreciate music that is hard to play. But, as the jazz thing clearly shows, that is probably not what results in a release of those ever-important pleasure chemicals.

So – what kind of music do you like? And – what does it say about you?

Music and your intelligence

For at least a decade, millions of parents have been playing classical music to their infant children in hopes of raising their intelligence in some way. We have all heard of the Mozart effect. Like an urban legend, nearly everyone has heard from a friend or a friend of a friend that Mozart will make you smarter, that the part of the brain that analyzes music is also involved in math and a million other activities.

So far, there actually hasn’t been much analysis on what effect early musical listening has on intelligence. However, there is growing evidence that learning to play music has many beneficial effects. Increased spatial intelligence for one, but also other benefits. Nina Kraus and Patrick Wong, both neuroscientists at Northwestern University, recently studied 20 participants, some with at least 6 years of musical training that started before the age of 12, and the others with only 3 years of training or less. They were asked to watch a movie of their choice while also listening to a language that was unfamiliar to them: Mandarin. They found that musical training correlated with the ability to decipher the tones used in Mandarin (which is a tonal language). They also found that musical training helped participants zero in on these sounds despite the ongoing movie. This analysis has lead the researchers to conclude that musical training may enhance a variety of auditory brain activities – in other words, musical training is not just training you to play music.

The good news is that many people fall into this category. The participants studied were not musical virtuosos – just every day people with early musical experience.

Unfortunately, I haven’t read anything yet to indicate that music helps with math. Considering how much I struggled with math in school, while simultaneously playing music daily since I was 8, I’m not sure there is much correlation to be found there.

Music and the Ancient Brain

Another interesting finding by Kraus and Wong, was that the differences between neural responses of participants was largely in the brain stem, one of the oldest parts of our brain, and a part that is normally only involved in controlling heartbeat, breathing, and other critical body functions. Not a place you would expect to find a response to music!

The research by Dr. Levitin (mentioned at the beginning) found musical responses in the Cerebellum, an area associated mostly with body movement, and also a comparatively ancient part of the brain. Levitin said that as the brain internalizes the music, the Cerebellum starts reacting every time the song deviates from its normal melody or tempo.

It is amazing that these ancient brain structures are so involved with the music, and could be yet another clue into why we react so strongly to it. Knowing this could explain why I often get a very physical reaction to music (tingling of the skin, for example).

Music and a thousand questions

Still, these studies have raised more questions than answers for me. How is our music preference affected by our personality? Why does the brain devote so much energy to experiencing music? What is lost in the brain if you are deaf, brain damaged, or musically deprived?


Brain Art, and art generated by Neural Networks and simulated cells

The brain is one of the most enigmatic and mysterious objects in the known universe. It is an organ of thought, abstraction and the subjective experience. It talks to itself, and influences itself. It alters the world and the environment, while constantly adapting to change. It is the seat of identity, emotion, memory and, some would say, the soul.

So, it is not surprising that artists find such inspiration in our gray, 3 pound friend. What could make a better artistic subject: it won’t fidget, and everyone has intimate experience with it.

PsicoCafé has compiled a large number of brain-related pictures into a gallery on Flickr:[email protected]/

Here are some of my favorites:


On the subject of brain art, Jonathan McCabe, an engineer and digital artist, has been exploring the use of neural networks and other computer simulations to generate art. This has produced some absolutely fascinating works.

A neural network is kind of a small, virtual brain. Here is how McCabe explains it:

Each image is essentially a visualisation of the output state of a small neural network. The X and Y coordinates correspond to two variables in the connections of the network; the colour of the pixel at that point is a representation of the network’s behaviour for those parameters. So the image is a map of system states; coherent colours show areas of relative stability or gradual change; edges show sharp jumps in the output; marbled swirls show complex oscillations.

This is the result of one network, which McCabe calls “Nervous States”:

McCabe has also engineered a virtual network of cells to do the same. Notice how organic the results look, as if it were taken from an actual microscope: