07 April 2013

Wagging a rat's tail via EEG signal - not much here.

This week saw many stories on the experiment done by Seung-Schik Yoo of Harvard Medical School.

"Interspecies telepathy: human thoughts make rat move" by Sara Reardon in NewScientist sums it up pretty well (bad title by the way, I'd say, since wires were involved!).
The human volunteers wore electrode caps that monitored their brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG). Meanwhile, an anaesthetised rat was hooked up to a device that made the creature's neurons fire whenever it delivered an ultrasonic pulse to the rat's motor cortex.
But the trigger detected by the EEG was simply a change in the person's concentration, which was enough to send the pulse. As Ricardo Chavarriaga (of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) comments:
More importantly, Chavarriaga says, the experiment will not be meaningful until the human's intention corresponds with the rat's action. For instance, a person might imagine moving their left hand to move the rat's left paw. Yoo's approach would not be of any use for that because it only tells us that a person's mental focus has changed, not what the thought or sensation behind the change is.
So overall I think this is not so interesting, just one more fairly minor step.

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