Imagine a world where you can communicate with another person using only your thoughts. It sounds creepily amazing, right?
Brain-to-brain communication—frequently called telepathy—has been a concept scientists have desired to grasp for a long time. Though the idea is seemingly unrealistic, an experiment is proving brain-to-brain communication is realistic.
Researchers at the University of Washington discovered a way to connect the brains of two people using the Internet and play a game of “20 questions” without saying a word! The results were published in the journal PLOS One Wednesday.
To conduct the experiment, the first person (the respondent) was told to answer the questions while wearing a cap connected to an electroencephalography (EEG) machine responsible for recording brain wave activity, Newsweek reports. Researchers simply showed the respondent images on a computer monitor of common objects and told the respondent to choose one.
In another lab, nearly one mile away, they gave the second person (the inquirer) a list of those objects. The inquirer was told to ask a series of “yes” or “no” questions to aid in figuring out the image the respondent had chosen (i.e. is it a pet?).
The question was sent over with the simple click of a mouse and the respondent answered yes or no via two flashing LED lights connected to a computer monitor. The answer to the question traveled back via the Internet.
The answer then activated a magnetic coil placed behind the inquirer’s head. A “no” would not stimulate the visual cortex of the brain whereas a “yes” would. The pressure caused a flash of light in the inquirer’s line of vision (phosphenes) and provided clues as to what the respondent had chosen.
The participants guessed 72 percent of the answers correctly in these games.
Lead author of the study, assistant professor of psychology and researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, Andrea Stocco, said that this experiment is “the most complex brain-to-brain experiment, I think, that’s been done to date in humans,” the Times Gazette reports.
Stocco also stated that the experiment “uses conscious experiences through signals that are experienced visually, and it requires two people to collaborate.” “We took many steps to make sure that people were not cheating,” Stocco added.
Co-author Chantel Prat explained that the participants “have to interpret something they’re seeing with their brains.” “It’s not something they’ve ever seen before,” the UW associate professor of psychology said.
Prat explained the importance of the experiment with a scenario: “Imagine having someone with ADHD and a neurotypical student. When the non-ADHD student is paying attention, the ADHD student’s brain gets put into a state of greater attention automatically.”
Though the researchers’ system is extraordinary, it is nowhere close to the speed of an actual thought. The respondent has to focus on the flashing LED for nearly 20 seconds for the EEG decoder to pick up his or her answer, according to Gizmodo. And the inquirer has to be trained on how to detect phosphenes for up to 2 hours before.
Nevertheless, the transmitted information was reliable and the brain-to-brain interface worked in real-time!
The researchers became the first team to demonstrate a brain-to-brain communication directly in 2013, according to Immortal News. In 2014, they received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation that has allowed the researchers to continue experimenting and researching brain connections.