Many of you might ask, why should I get started with recording and analyzing EEG data? In fact, with EEG you can measure a lot more than meets the eye – quite literally, vision is one of the everyday processes that are heavily affected by brain processes. Recording and analyzing EEG data can help us understand the cognitive functions relevant for seeing and interacting with our surroundings. Of course, the same holds true for any other sense: No matter whether you are interested in hearing, touching, smelling, tasting – any of these basic human perceptions and the associated feelings and mental images can be evaluated with EEG.
How do humans perceive colors? How much of the perception process is shaped by biological sources, how much by culture and social learning? What you perceive as “red” might be a completely different color to others. A research team around C. Thorstenson, University of Rochester, recently provided scientific evidence on how mood and emotion can affect how we see the world around us. Another region of interest is perception of social agents. B. Urgen and colleagues, UC San Diego, published a study on how we perceive human avatars, and how the perception is shaped by the avatars’ movements and appearance. With EEG, you can monitor which brain regions are active when we see an object, and improve objects for optimal perception.
We learn with all senses from what we experience, what others tell us verbally or nonverbally. In fact, our brain is an excellent pattern recognition machine, trying to connect the dots and get the bigger picture. Whenever things occur together – either in time or in space – our brain groups this information and stores the association for later retrieval: bananas are yellow; roses smell sweet. Interestingly, our brain even builds these associations when there is no obvious reward! This has been referred to as unsupervised learning, and several research teams around the globe – for example E. Mingolla (Boston University), are actively exploring the underlying brain processes.
What is your oldest memory? Try to close your eyes and remember. How does our brain retrieve all of the gained information, what triggers the memory? Maybe you remember a sound or a smell, a color or a feeling. The human brain has certain memory hubs such as the hippocampus, where very deep memories reside (excluding the first 4 years that are lost due to childhood amnesia). The sensually richer a memory is (in more technical terms, “multisensory”), the more likely it will survive time. Savants are a very special group of humans suffering from autism spectrum disorder with excellent memory skills. They remember everything in great detail, even emotionally very arousing events such as splitting up with a beloved one. Maybe there are evolutionary benefits for forgetting such events over time…
New York Times Square is an excellent place to monitor brain processes of attention. Which object elements and features trigger our attention? Certainly, flashy stimuli “pop” and make us turn our heads. However, additionally to these bottom-up aspects, we’re able to shift the “flashlight of attention” voluntarily based on our own internal goals, mental and emotional states (top-down). To measure the interplay of both, EEG is certainly helpful.
Motivation refers to the cognitive aspects underlying actions, desires, and needs. What elicits our interest and desire for exactly this particular pair of shoes, that leather bag or this specific food? With EEG, you can evaluate whether people are drawn towards an object or try to avoid it. More information on how to achieve this has been described in a previous blog post on frontal asymmetry.
Emotions and Feelings:
Emotions and feelings are unconscious and generally hard to describe verbally. EEG research has identified several regions that are sensitive to emotional stimulation, which are typically localized quite deep in the brain and hard to measure from with low-density arrays. Lee & Hsieh (2014) provided first evidence for functional connectivity analysis being able to discriminate brain patterns of joy, sadness and other emotional states.
Are you interested in EEG research or biometric research in general? Please contact the team at iMotions for assistance or directly request a demo.