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500 people showed up to a brain experiment and you’ll never believe what researchers learned.

When neuroscientists study living human brains, their work usually involves a few dozen participants who visit a lab separately and must sit still for an hour or more. But a consumer technology innovation may have just opened the door to powerful new insights into how the brain works outside the lab, in real life social environments, in the home, at work, at school and at play.

Muse, the wearable headband that translates a user’s brainwaves (also known as electroencephalograms, or EEG) is better known as a tool to help users learn meditation. The technology also makes it easier than ever for researchers, artists, and clinicians to access the brain.

That’s exactly what Dr. Natasha Kovacevic of Toronto’s Rotman Research Institute and her colleagues did at a major public art exhibit in Toronto called “My Virtual Dream”. Their experiment was published yesterday in the scientific journal PLOS One.

By creating an engaging experience in which audience members interacted with performers while wearing Muse headbands, Dr. Kovacevic and her colleagues trained 20 people at a time to control the lights with their collective brainwaves. In all, more than 500 people shared their brainwaves with the researchers, all in a single night.

“What we’ve done is taken the lab to the public,” said Dr. Kovacevic. “We collaborated with multi-media artists, made this experiment incredibly engaging, attracted highly motivated subjects which is not easy to do in the traditional lab setting, and collected useful scientific data from their experience.”

Having so many participants led to a completely new insight into brain training: using real-time brainwave feedback (sometimes called neurofeedback) can result in learning effects within one minute. These effects were only seen when the researchers looked at data from hundreds of participants – far more than is possible in a lab.

With Muse, scientists can now use EEG technology in a way that allows hundreds or even thousands of people to participate in brain research, both inside and outside the lab. What’s more, Muse is available to consumers, which has some scientists calling this the dawn of pervasive neurotechnology for healthier brains.

To read Dr. Kovacevic’s article on My Virtual Dream and Muse in PLOS One, click here.


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