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      (C)overt attention and visual speller design in an ERP-based brain-computer interface


      , 1 , 2 , 1 , 3

      Behavioral and Brain Functions : BBF

      BioMed Central

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          In a visual oddball paradigm, attention to an event usually modulates the event-related potential (ERP). An ERP-based brain-computer interface (BCI) exploits this neural mechanism for communication. Hitherto, it was unclear to what extent the accuracy of such a BCI requires eye movements (overt attention) or whether it is also feasible for targets in the visual periphery (covert attention). Also unclear was how the visual design of the BCI can be improved to meet peculiarities of peripheral vision such as low spatial acuity and crowding.


          Healthy participants (N = 13) performed a copy-spelling task wherein they had to count target intensifications. EEG and eye movements were recorded concurrently. First, (c)overt attention was investigated by way of a target fixation condition and a central fixation condition. In the latter, participants had to fixate a dot in the center of the screen and allocate their attention to a target in the visual periphery. Second, the effect of visual speller layout was investigated by comparing the symbol Matrix to an ERP-based Hex-o-Spell, a two-levels speller consisting of six discs arranged on an invisible hexagon.


          We assessed counting errors, ERP amplitudes, and offline classification performance. There is an advantage (i.e., less errors, larger ERP amplitude modulation, better classification) of overt attention over covert attention, and there is also an advantage of the Hex-o-Spell over the Matrix. Using overt attention, P1, N1, P2, N2, and P3 components are enhanced by attention. Using covert attention, only N2 and P3 are enhanced for both spellers, and N1 and P2 are modulated when using the Hex-o-Spell but not when using the Matrix. Consequently, classifiers rely mainly on early evoked potentials in overt attention and on later cognitive components in covert attention.


          Both overt and covert attention can be used to drive an ERP-based BCI, but performance is markedly lower for covert attention. The Hex-o-Spell outperforms the Matrix, especially when eye movements are not permitted, illustrating that performance can be increased if one accounts for peculiarities of peripheral vision.

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          Most cited references 35

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              Talking off the top of your head: toward a mental prosthesis utilizing event-related brain potentials.

              This paper describes the development and testing of a system whereby one can communicate through a computer by using the P300 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP). Such a system may be used as a communication aid by individuals who cannot use any motor system for communication (e.g., 'locked-in' patients). The 26 letters of the alphabet, together with several other symbols and commands, are displayed on a computer screen which serves as the keyboard or prosthetic device. The subject focuses attention successively on the characters he wishes to communicate. The computer detects the chosen character on-line and in real time. This detection is achieved by repeatedly flashing rows and columns of the matrix. When the elements containing the chosen character are flashed, a P300 is elicited, and it is this P300 that is detected by the computer. We report an analysis of the operating characteristics of the system when used with normal volunteers, who took part in 2 experimental sessions. In the first session (the pilot study/training session) subjects attempted to spell a word and convey it to a voice synthesizer for production. In the second session (the analysis of the operating characteristics of the system) subjects were required simply to attend to individual letters of a word for a specific number of trials while data were recorded for off-line analysis. The analyses suggest that this communication channel can be operated accurately at the rate of 0.20 bits/sec. In other words, under the conditions we used, subjects can communicate 12.0 bits, or 2.3 characters, per min.

                Author and article information

                Behav Brain Funct
                Behavioral and Brain Functions : BBF
                BioMed Central
                28 May 2010
                : 6
                : 28
                [1 ]Berlin Institute of Technology, Machine Learning Laboratory, Berlin, Germany
                [2 ]Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Centre for Cognition, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
                [3 ]Fraunhofer FIRST, Berlin, Germany
                Copyright ©2010 Treder and Blankertz; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.




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