Crowdsourcing Brain Data Could Lead to New Frontier in Neuroscience

Neuroscientists in Toronto are suggesting that crowdsourcing brain data with hundreds of adults in a short period of time could be “a new frontier in neuroscience” and lead to new insights about the brain.

An experiment at the 2013 Scotiabank Nuit Blanche arts event in Toronto, where more than 500 adults aged 18 and older were invited to wear a Muse wireless electroencephalography headband and participate in a brief collective neurofeedback experience in groups of 20 inside a 60-foot geodesic dome, demonstrated the scientific viability of collective neurofeedback as a potential new avenue of neuroscience research that takes into account individuality, complexity and sociability of the human mind.

Dr. Natasha Kovacevic of Baycrest Health Sciences’ Rotman Research Institute is the lead author of a scientific paper on the crowdsourcing experiment, titled “My Virtual Dream: Collective Neurofeedback in an Immersive Art Environment,” published online today in the journal PLOS ONE.

“In traditional lab settings, the environment is so controlled that you can lose some of the fine points of real-time brain activity that occur in a social life setting,” said Dr. Kovacevic, creative producer of My Virtual Dream and program manager of the Centre for Integrative Brain Dynamics at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute.

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The massive amount of EEG data collected in one night yielded an interesting and statistically relevant finding: that subtle brain activity changes were taking place within approximately one minute of the neurofeedback learning exercise—”unprecedented speed of learning changes that have not been demonstrated before,” researchers say.

“These results really open up a whole new domain of neuroscience study that actively engages the public to advance our understanding of the brain,” said Dr. Randy McIntosh, director of the Rotman Research Institute and vice-president of Research at Baycrest and a senior author on the paper.

Plans are underway to travel My Virtual Dream to other cities around the world.