Imagine for a second that you had the ability to read the mind of the opposite gender. You could for example tell exactly how they felt about you, if the chemistry between you was right, things you’ve done to turn them off and what flags you should and shouldn’t trigger. Is this beginning to sound like a science fiction romance yet? Well we can’t exactly read peoples minds. But we can however construct clever experiments, that let us get pretty darn close. And if we include the application of biometric instruments in the experiments, we get yet another step closer to unlocking what has before been considered impossible.
Instruments used for insight into the human mind
Individually these instruments below do not show a clear picture of whats happening in the mind. But together they paint a vivid picture about some of the private workings of the brain. Below is a short summary on the technology we use at Arousal Science labs that enables us to get a glimpse of what is really happening in someones head.
Eye Tracking is technology that lets you track the human eye in real time. The technology works by shining a near infrared light source onto the eye. Which then creates a reflection on the pupil of the eye and then math is done to figure out exactly where the human is looking. Once we know where the human is looking the gaze data can be used to either:
- Show a live feed of where the participant is looking
- Store gaze coordinates for use in analysis at a later time
The importance of Eye Tracking for insight into the brain
The eyes are the only motor organ we have that are directly connected to the brain. Everything else (other motor organs) comes in through the spine. So we can say that the eyes are a direct extension of the brain. Which means if our interest is to monitor the decisions of the brain and see whats most important to the brain (currently) – then the eyes are really the window into the brain. The eyes are the brains primary tools for gathering current information about our surroundings. They are the sensory input devices through which we we experience the visual. Which we can only experience by looking only at single place at a time. Our brains have evolved advanced strategies to point our eyes at what we predict is the most useful visual information available to us at the time.
Eye tracking enables us to observe what the brain chooses to look at. An Eye Tracker cannot explain why our brain “chose” to look at something but it can help us make a pretty good guess as to the motives that lead to the decision. Eye tracking allows us to make powerful inferences about what is visually important to people’s underlying cognitive processes.
EEG is a neuroscientific tool that measures electrical activity in the brain. Brain cells communicate through electrical impulses – an EEG sensor can be used to help determine what parts of the brain are currently active. There are many different types of EEG sensors – in an oversimplified view the hardware is something you place near your scalp in order to detect electrical signals from the brain. These readings can then be correlated with regions of the brain that have associations with cognitive functions like frustration, attention, memory encoding and emotional intensity.
The importance of Brainwaves and what they reveal to us about the brains current state
All of our thoughts, quirks, and emotions can be said to be just communication between neurons in our brain. Our brainwaves change according to our current mental state, each brainwave state is measured in cycles per second (Hz) and has a set of characteristics representing a specific level of brain activity and a unique state of consciousness. Humans display five different types of electrical patterns (brain waves) across the cortex. One important detail to note is that in your waking state, your EEG will register all 5 types of brainwaves at the same time. But only one will ever be dominant at any given time depending on the state of consciousness you are in. The five brainwave states are delta, theta, alpha, beta, gamma. When we are asleep, our brain signals are recorded as a range of low frequencies (such as delta waves). However our brains when engaged in dynamic activities record a range of higher frequencies (such as beta & gamma waves). So we can say that the higher the brainwave activation the more awake and engaged in cognitively strenuous activity we are.
The Five Brain Waves
Delta Waves (0 – 4 Hz Slowest) – are brainwaves that are characterized as being the slowest, lowest in frequency and highest in amplitude of all the brainwaves. The mental and physiological states associated with this brainwave frequency are deep sleep, dreamless sleep, and deep meditation where awareness is detached. Delta brainwaves are said to be the domain of the unconscious mind and are often linked with unconscious motives. They are associated with the deepest level of relaxation and restorative sleep.
Theta Waves (6–10 Hz) – are brainwaves that characterized by states of day dreaming and sleep. Theta brain waves connect us to our deep seeded emotions and allow us to access information that is often hidden by our mind. This brainwave state is often described as deeply relaxed, highly suggestible and semi-hypnotic. In this mental state you are aware of your surroundings but your body is in a deep relaxation state. As a result you can get great inspiration, creativity and insight in this state. You are most influenced by suggestions while in this state and are likely to be in a trance like hypnotic state.
Alpha Waves (8 Hz to 12 Hz Moderate) – This mental state is our regular “in the moment” state. This mental state is related to mental coordination, mind/body integration learning, alertness and calmness while we are in our awake state. Alpha waves connect our conscious thinking and unconscious mind, its the bridge between Theta and Beta mental states. An interesting phenomenon called “alpha blocking” occurs when there is too much beta activity and very little alpha which is linked to heightened levels of stress.
Beta Waves (12 Hz to 40 Hz High) – Described as the dominate brainwave state when we are awake and engaged in cognitive tasks in the real world. This brainwave is linked to being alert, attentive, engaged in problem solving, making decisions, logical and critical reasoning. Your brain is operating at a higher level while in this brainwave state and is likely to become stressed. Being in this mental state when not actually doing something (working, studying) can lead to an excessive string of thoughts that may manifest as stress.
Gamma Waves (40 Hz to 100 Hz (Highest) – This range is the fastest at above 40 cycles per second. Little is known about this mental state but studies have shown a link between bursts of insight and high-level information processing to be linked with this mental state. Gamma waves are said to be related to parallel processing of information from different areas of our brain. The mental states linked to this brain wave are altruism, universal love and higher virtues.
EDA (Electrodermal activity)
A biometric instrument that measures tiny changes in your body temperature and perspiration. The hardware is a WiFi enabled bracelet which takes readings from your wrist. The instrument monitors the conductivity on the surface of the skin and looks for microscopic changes in the levels of perspiration. These microscopic changes are correlated with sympathetic nervous system activity, arousal and stress.
The insight EDA gives us about the mind
The importance of monitoring sweat gland activity is that sweat glands are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. EDA is known to correlate with the underlying activity of the autonomic central nervous system, which is intrinsically linked with emotion. Thus monitoring EDA gives us a valuable understanding of the physiological state of arousal (positive and negative) of a person, there is a relationship between sympathetic activity and emotional arousal. EDA is highly responsive to emotions in some people fear, anger, startled response and sexual feelings are among the reactions that are easily detectable by EDA instruments.
You can always ask someone how they feel about you but you can actually quantify in a measure of strength exactly how much they react towards you via EDA. This allows us to fill in the gaps between what a person says and what they really think and feel. Giving us an amazing insight into how someone feels and to which measure they feel it.
Heart Rate Monitor
>Our hearts are linked to our emotional state. When you’re calm your heart rate is at a lower BPM (beats per min) when you’re angry your heart rate is more sporadic and fluctuates. When used in a controlled experiment setting, changes in heart rate can lead to insight when correlated with other biometric instruments. The excitement phase of the human sexual response cycle is said to be characterized by an increase in heart rate. Thus if this assumption is used in a controlled environment you can provide an additional metric to determine when arousal happens. In summary, correlation of heart rate information in conjunction with other biometric instruments, along with observations made about the behavior of the human heart in different situations, can lead to insight into the arousal of the individual.
Webcam Video Feed
The human face has evolved to become a canvas that projects emotions and mental processes. Whatever the inner processes are, you can be sure to count on the face to display them. Recording the person as they participate in the study provides insight that would otherwise be lost. You get to see facial expression, body movements, reactions and much more. The video data is easily processed by anyone re-watching it. And data recorded by other instruments can then be examined in relation to webcam video feed to compare observations. An example is seeing a spike in all the other biometric instruments but being unable to figure out why this spike happened. In this example by examining the webcam video feed the reason for the spike might be less ambiguous. The ability to see the participant as they are, while in the experiment gives us another way to verify observations. Also, the video feed can be processed through algorithms that can detect different emotional states after the study has been conducted. The automatic processing allows for comparison of different instrument readings simultaneously.