Brain-to-brain communication of two different individuals sounds like a work of science fiction, but scientists at University of Washington have experimentally proven that two people’s brain can be linked over the internet.
The experiment, detailed in PLOS ONE, is believed to be the first one to show that two brains can be directly linked to allow one person to guess what the other person is thinking.
Andrea Stocco, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of psychology and a researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences said this brain-to-brain communication experiment is the most complex that has been done in humans.
“It uses conscious experiences through signals that are experienced visually, and it requires two people to collaborate,” said Stocco.
Most patients that use BCI devices require electrodes to be embedded in the thalamus. However, for this experiment, pair of participants play a popular 20 Questions guessing game in rooms a mile apart on campus. One participant wore an electrode-studded cap connected to an EEG machine to monitor brain activity, the other participant wore a cap connected to a magnetic coil capable of stimulating the visual cortex.
When the participant wearing the magnetic coil selected questions about an object from the list using a mouse, the other participant with electrode cap was able to signal the other participant (questioner) if the answer to question was a “Yes” or “No” simply by focusing on at a flashlight that indicated the answer.
In the experiment, only “Yes” answer generated a response intense enough to stimulate the visual cortex, so “yes” sent a signal to the questioner. “No” answer generated no response, so it did not a signal at all. All the signals were transmitted over the Internet.
Participants were able to guess 72 percent of the real 20 Questions game, compared with just 18 percent of the control rounds. Researchers said incorrect guesses could be caused by several factor like uncertainty in appearance of a phosphene – a luminous pattern seen when the brain is stimulated electrically.
“They have to interpret something they’re seeing with their brains,” said Chantel Prat, co-author of the study. “It’s not something they’ve ever seen before.”
“While the flashing lights are signals that we’re putting into the brain, those parts of the brain are doing a million other things at any given time too.”
Researchers hope this brain-to-brain communication experiment could be a breakthrough for communications and with the experiment like this, they could one day capture the brain patterns and transmit them to a person with rambling minds, such as a person trying to overcome Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.