Brain-to-brain interface – but what is being transmitted?

High-tech tinfoil hat

There’s a cool new paper on brain-to-brain interfaces, and I’m sure it will be misinterpreted in the media, just like every other paper of this genre. ūüôā

There have been a couple of demonstrations of brain-to-brain interfaces¬†before, and I’ve written about one of the previous papers in Finnish.¬†¬†The idea of BBI is that information about one participant’s brain state is read (typically using EEG), and then the brain state of another participant is manipulated, typically using TMS. At least in the press, these demonstrations are often termed as “telepathy” or “mind-reading”,¬†and illustrated by images from Star Trek, X-Men or just people in tinfoil hats. Often the implications of these studies is posed as a question: will we soon be able to communicate with each other directly, without language? Will all our brains be connected together to form a giant common consciousness?

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New paper: word rhythm entrainment in a story-telling game


This picture depicts the relative timing of the pairs’ words. In the absence of any influence from the partner, the distribution would follow the red dashed line. Instead, the distribution is strongly concentrated on 180 degrees, which means the partners are in anti-phase entrainment – the words of one occur close to half way between the words of the other.

It’s always a nice milestone¬†to get a paper published.¬†We reached one today as our paper in Frontiers in Psychology – Language Sciences was published.¬†Our paper is part of a¬†very interesting Research Topic, Turn-taking in Human Communicative Interaction.

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T√§n√§√§n on uutisoitu sek√§ YLE:n ett√§ Helsingin Sanomien verkkosivuilla tutkimuksesta, jossa juttujen mukaan toteutettiin “telepatiaa k√§yt√§nn√∂ss√§”. Tutkimuksen oli tehnyt kansainv√§linen tutkijaryhm√§. Ryhm√§n j√§senist√§ monet ovat t√∂iss√§ yrityksiss√§, jotka valmistavat t√§ss√§ demonstraatiossa k√§ytettyj√§ EEG- ja TMS-laitteita.

Demonstraatio on mielenkiintoinen, mutta telepatiaa se ei ole. Kaikkitietävän Wikipedian mukaan telepatia on informaation siirtoa ihmiseltä toiselle käyttämättä mitään tunnettuja aistikanavia tai fyysistä vuorovaikutusta. Aivosähkökäyrän mittaaminen ja aivojen magneettistimulaatio ovat kuitenkin fyysistä vuorovaikutusta. Näistä kumpikin on aivotutkimuksen vakiokalustoa. Tutkimus, tai ehkä tosiaan oikeammin demonstraatio, ei myöskään kerro meille varsinaisesti mitään uutta aivojen toiminnasta, vaan se käyttää hyväksi varsin tunnettuja mekanismeja.  Continue reading

Communication in a string quartet

Casa Paganini, Uni of Genoa

As I mentioned in the earlier post from the International Symposium on Performance Science, string quartets seem to be fashionable in music psychology, and for good reasons. They are perhaps the prototype of a chamber music ensemble, with lots of great pieces written for them, they are of an optimal size for such studies, and of course there are many professional quartets that have worked together for years, making them extremely interesting topics for research on coordination and interaction. A new study from Genoa looks at communication in a string quartet, using a cool setup.

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Eine Kleine Yachtmusic – some fishy research

Rainbow trout

You might remember the famous salmon study by Bennett et al. (2009) (pdf), the classic demonstration of why corrections for multiple comparisons are vital in fMRI research. Yes, the one where the researchers found significant activation in parts of a salmon’s brain. Dead salmon’s brain to be exact.

Well, the trouts are back in town. This time the rainbow variety, and the study is about the good old Mozart effect. Continue reading

Mosh pit dynamics

Picture by wetwebwork (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From The Met to Mardi Gras, Glastonbury to Concertgebouw, music syncs groups of people together. Getting people moving together and feeling e.g. joy, sublimity or nostalgia together is one of many virtues of music (of course, you can also see it as a vice if you look at how music is used in preparation for battle or as a propaganda tool). Continue reading

Innovative methods

Typewriter keys

Putting together a setup for an experiment is one of my favourite parts of the research process. I suppose it is because it is practical work, providing a nice balance to the usual sitting in front of the computer for hours and hours -routine that most of the rest of the process consists of. Also, it is the point where usually a lot of abstract planning gets its physical form – a moment of birth, in a way. Emotions are involved, usually frustration as things do not work, but in the end also satisfaction and sense of accomplishment when they finally do.

A very nerdy confession: I like to read the methods and especially the apparatus sections in research papers. Even if the study itself is strong mainly in meh-ness, there might be clever bits in the way the study was conducted. And, a lot of very clever stuff was done before everything was done with computers.

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Why digging up primary sources is important?

When writing a thesis, a chore that always takes more time than predicted is building the bibliography. Even with good software to manage your citations and references (EndNote, RefWorks, JabRef etc.), peppering your text with references and engaging in discussion with your sources takes time. (I often wonder how it was even possible to do research before ScienceDirect, BibTex and Google Scholar).

A researcher is a part of a network and a link in a chain. We build on other researchers’ work and provide a service of collating information from numerous sources, making interpretations and value-based judgments on the way. Some papers wind up being generally accepted as “canonical” in the field, these are the ones read by every journal club and quoted in every paper and thesis on the topic. Others are forgotten or live on as curiosities, mentioned for entertainment value or as “sign of the times past”.

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Mind and movement

The traditional view of cognition is that brains are responsible for information processing, and to study that brain and how it works should be done by metaphorically evacuating it from the skull, bolting it on the test bench of the psychology lab and put it through its paces.

As an analogy, you can’t get a comprehensive idea of the performance of the car based on just having its engine being measured in a test bench. You will learn nothing about how the car will handle under different conditions, how comfortable or handy it will be etc.

I don’t want to push that analogy any further, as I think it’s already as far as it uncomfortably goes, but cognitive psychology is well-known for leaving out the (usually) social context in which the individual mind works, and also the body in which it resides, which it moves and which takes it to places. While fields like social and cognition and cultural psychology have tried to bring in the social side of our being, embodied cognition is the keyword for studying how the mind and body work together to instantiate behaviours and cognitive processes.

Music is a great domain to study these issues, and one could argue that in order to study music, one needs to take both the social and embodied contexts into account. In Jyväskylä, we study music-related movement with this in mind; to understand what takes place when someone plays music, we need to see how they use their bodies AND how they use their minds.

That’s a bit of an intro to this interesting paper I recently found. In the paper “Moving Through Time”, the authors from the University of Aberdeen discuss their study, where they tracked the forward-and-back -movement or posture of people who were either recalling their past or predicting what their future would look like. They noticed that when imagining their future (the ability to travel subjectively through time, is called chronesthesia, in case you need to impress someone, or for instance come up with a fancy-sounding excuse for staring blankly ahead) people would be leaning forward, and when recalling the past, they’d be leaning backward.

According to the authors, this demonstrates that this subjective time travel has an observable behavioural correlate and that this is an instance of how the perception-action cycle works. This is a very clear and simple study, and the results look very clean. I wonder if we could somehow extend this to interpersonal or musical contexts… Please leave a comment if you have ideas!

Miles, L. K., Nind, L. K. & Macrae, C. N. (2010). Moving Through Time. Psychological Science. Published online as doi:10.1177/0956797609359333
Pic: Engine test bench