MIT Research Proves You Can Control Your Brain Waves to Boost Attention

Subjects in the study simply needed to be given live feedback of their brain activity in order to control their brain waves.
Fabienne Lang

Having issues to concentrate? MIT neuroscientists may have the solution for you: control your alpha brain waves. It sounds more complicated than it actually is.

In a new study, MIT researchers taught subjects to control their brain waves in order to increase focus and attention by giving them live feedback on their brain activity.

This method could prove useful, in particular for people with learning disabilities.


The study was published on Wednesday in Neuron.

How do you control your brain waves?

The team of MIT scientists learned that by being able to suppress alpha waves in one part of the partial cortex — the section responsible for touch, spatial sense, navigation, and attention — subjects could pay closer attention to tasks.

"There’s a lot of interest in using neurofeedback to try to help people with various brain disorders and behavioral problems," said Robert Desimone, director of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. "It’s a completely noninvasive way of controlling and testing the role of different types of brain activity."

The link between alpha waves and attention is not a new one. However, what the authors of this MIT research claim that still isn't well-known is whether this connection is a byproduct of another process, or if alpha waves are the ones controlling attention.

In their test, the researchers discovered that their subjects could control their alpha brain waves on each side of the brain depending on the information they were being shown. In just 10 minutes, subjects learnt how to increase the control on each side of their brain, improving their attention.

"After the experiment, the subjects said they knew that they were controlling the contrast, but they didn’t know how they did it," lead author Yasaman Bagherzadeh said in a statement. "We think the basis is conditional learning — whenever you do a behavior and you receive a reward, you’re reinforcing that behavior."

So the question of how the subjects managed to control their brain waves still remains a mystery. The scientists hope but still aren't certain, that this technique could be used in real-life scenarios, for instance when teaching people with learning disabilities how to improve their focus and attention.

That said, this study does prove how we, in fact, have control, even if it is subconscious, over our alpha brain waves.

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