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09/18/2007

Should you have the tools to hack your brain?

spoof game rating image: may alter brainwaves

The widespread distribution of neurofeedback games has some scientists a little worried, according to Wired:

Companies including Emotiv Systems and NeuroSky say they’ve released [brain-computer interface]-based software-development kits. Gaming companies may release BCI games next year, but many scientists worry that users brains’ might be subject to negative effects.

For example, the devices sometimes force users to slow down their brain waves. Afterward, users have reported trouble focusing their attention.

“Imagine that somebody uses a game with slow brain-wave activity and then drives a car while still in that state,” says Niels Birbaumer, a leading independent researcher in medical applications of BCIs. “You could have an accident. I think it’s a rare possibility, but it should be tested before people do this.”

Of course, the zen version of Halo isn’t the only way to adjust your brain’s function. There’s a bunch of research indicating that meditation can have real effects on how the brain operates (here’s a review paper on the subject — drop “meditation eeg” into PubMed and a whole lot more will tumble out). And really, if you choose to tune your brain waves a particular way — either through meditation or gaming — isn’t that between you and your brain? Or maybe biofeedback and its effects are more like alcohol and other drugs. Are we looking at a whole new thing to regulate?

-Greg Dahlmann

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