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A new study finds that users who practice meditation and yoga are better at manipulating computers with their mind.

Many mind-controlled computers receive their signal to act when they detect brain waves that are associated with focus and concentration. Until recently, the most advanced research on mind-controlled interfaces has been dedicated to helping paralyzed victims control artificial limbs through devices that take their direction from specific brainwaves.

“Our ultimate goal is to help people who are paralyzed or have brain diseases regain mobility and independence,” said lead researcher and University of Minnesota professor Bin He. The study found that participants with at least one year of yoga or meditation training were better at moving a cursor across a computer screen that was controlled by a brainwave-reading cap.

But there are an increasing number of brain-controlled devices on the market. I’ve tested out a few, such as the Muse headband, and I know from experience that it’s tough mental work. It takes practice to quiet the mind and focus on very specific thoughts.

Another brain-controlled device, the Emotiv EPOC, tailors computer controls to each individual users thoughts. For instance, I tested an early version, and in order to move a cursor “left,” I had to think about what it means for me; then the EPOC defined left based on my specific thought process.

This is unlike moving a mouse or typing. I can send a text while completely drunk (but I wish I couldn’t), because moving a muscle can be done without much thought. But holding specific thoughts in one’s head is more mentally taxing.

The academic term for this mind control is “neurofeedback,” a learned technique where computer-based interaction helps strengthen portions of the brain, just like muscle training strengthens the body. And as with strength training, I’ve become better with practice.

As machines move away from keyboards as input devices, I suspect that schools would need to teach all students advanced meditation and yoga, just so they could interact with a computer. As someone who regularly reviews these devices, I’ve needed the training myself.

Read more about the study here.


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