McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
faculty member Andrew Schwartz, PhD (pictured), professor of neurobiology, is the director of the MotorLab at the University of Pittsburgh. As a systems neurophysiology lab, Dr. Schwartz and his MotorLab scientific team are interested in the way neural activity drives behavior. Since behavior is generated by neural activity there is a temporal correspondence between them. Their goal is to describe this time-varying relation and to discover fundamental organization principles linking neural activity to behavior.
In Dr. Schwartz’s lab, a clear demonstration linking neural activity to behavior is shown when macaque monkeys feed themselves using a robotic arm controlled only by their thoughts. The research project is focused on the relation between cerebral cortical activity and arm movement. Of note is that the equipment and technologies used in the MotorLab are much more advanced and more precise than those marketed in today’s commercial mind-reading tools.
As reported by Christie Nicholson for Scientific American 60-Second Psych, commercial companies are now using brain-computer interface (BCI) in products like Mattel’s MindFlex or the Star Wars Force Trainer. These merchandise allow players to move a ball with thoughts alone. There is also the consumer product Zeo that follows your sleeping brain waves in order to diagnose any restless nights.
These companies use an electroencephalography cap (or EEG) that is placed on top of your head to read your overall brain state. The results are fairly crude. Through the device you can detect if one is calm, angry, excited, or distracted, and you can manipulate those brain states to activate switches, like move a ball forward and back. But if you want to go beyond any binary on/off activation, however, you need to get deeper into the brain.
And the MotorLab’s research program is centered on just that. Over the last 20 years, they have found that there is a very good representation of the arm’s trajectory in the collective firing pattern of frontal cortical activity. This representation is robust, predictive, and contains many of the behavioral invariants characteristic of natural arm movement.
Research projects in the laboratory are based on this cortical trajectory representation. Active research projects include studies on neural prosthetics, neural decoding of grasping, and perception to action.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Scientific American (09/12/10)
Bio: Dr. Andrew Schwartz