Research Topic

Mind over brain, brain over mind: cognitive causes and consequences of controlling brain activity

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Brain activity is considered the physical correlate of mental activity. A change from one state of mind to another implies a change corresponding in the state of the brain and vice versa. In the practice, this correspondence between brain and cognitive activity is very difficult to measure due to their very ...

Brain activity is considered the physical correlate of mental activity. A change from one state of mind to another implies a change corresponding in the state of the brain and vice versa. In the practice, this correspondence between brain and cognitive activity is very difficult to measure due to their very high complexity, interindividual differences as well as temporal changes.
Modern technology shows us that solving different cognitive tasks leads to the emergence of states of brain activity which can be precisely identified and even employed to control devices external to the brain (i.e. brain-computer-interfaces, BCI). Moreover, studies on neurofeedback (NF) show that it is possible to learn to modulate one's own brain activity and thereby achieve changes in cognition and behavior. Therefore, NF is used as therapy for individuals with, for instance, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, epilepsy or autism spectrum disorder.
Interestingly, roughly about one third of people trying to control computerized devices with brain signals succeed promptly, one third is able to gain control with training and one third never achieves significant control with state-of-the-art BCI or NF technology. Cognitive factors such as motivation and mood, as well as the impact of distraction and workload on BCI control have been related to the individual success. Moreover, the brain also generates a large amount of coherent spontaneous activity independently of the task at hand which may constrain the capacity to produce distinguishable patterns of brain signal.
Thus, the question is what does the individual capacity to modulate brain signal tell us about how the brain implements cognition and how do the different cognitive functions determine how well one can gain control over his/her own brain signal? Moreover, how the ability of switching rapidly between brain states (i.e. enhancing and decreasing a certain frequency band over a certain brain area) leads to what kind of cognitive changes in the individual.
The answer to this question requires investigation on task-specific and task-unspecific aspects of brain activity as measured using modern methods such as EEG, fMRI and NIRS as well as on cognitive functions related to the individual differences observed in the correspondence between brain and cognitive activity. This Research Topic aims to report on the most recent evidence on this topic.


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