Neuromag May 2017 - Page 9

If you do have some equipment, like a swimsuit or an artificial foot, then they’re just accessories to your suc- cess or failure. But what about these examples: was it nerves or a tech is- sue that stopped our Cybathlete? Are the manufacturers of the Olympic athlete’s leg more or less responsible than the manufacturers of the Cy- bathlete’s arm? It’s easy to say less, since the leg doesn’t really do anything aside from exist, while the arm must do some things all in its own — but I would disagree. If a special leg makes you two percent faster than you were, and you now move those 0.008 sec- onds into first place, does the credit really lie entirely on your shoulders? The standard Olympics attempts to deal with this tension by regulations: they prescribe what can and cannot be done in training as well as in competi- tion. No steroids, no fancy swimsuits, nothing that can detract from the core premise of the Olympic games that the world comes together to celebrate the limits of human achievement. The Cybathlon, in contrast, deals with this assumption head-on. Instead of attempting to control what sorts of technology are allowed, it actually limits the capabilities of the pilots. For each of the races, pilots were only eli- gible if they met certain criteria for dis- ability–in a sense forcing the human achievement and the technological achievement to more equal grounds. Best of all, both were equally celebrat- ed. The spectators applauded not only the pilots for winning the races but also the companies and research labs Researchers at the Simon Fraser University are working on the world’s most advanced prosthetic (‘bionic’) hand. Source: Simon Fraser University - University Communica- tions (Flickr.com) that provided the technology to do so. The atmosphere was one of celebra- tion, for human and machine both — a point especially crucial in this domain. With healthy humans it’s easy enough to pretend that the human achieve- ment is the most crucial kind, but the fact remains that less abled indi- viduals simply cannot do some things. Without a hand, you can’t screw in a light bulb; without being able to con- trol your muscles, you can’t commu- nicate with the world. In these cases it is crucial to see how technology can come to a person’s aid, and how the tech itself needs to be celebrated and supported. BCIs may still not be something a healthy person would want for themselves, but as the Cy- bathlon proved there are many people for whom such a device makes the difference between connection within the world and isolation. Remember- ing and celebrating the difference that technology makes, and how devices and people together can accomplish so much more than either apart, can make all the difference in the world. Vinay Jayaram is a PhD candidate in brain-computer interfaces at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen. Science Snapshot For my master’s thesis, I conducted a neurofeedback study on patients with social phobia. Neurofeedback is a neurobiological technique that teaches individuals to modulate their neural ac- tivity voluntarily. We used near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) to visualize the neural signal of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC). The dysfunction of the dlPFC in social anxiety is believed to result in a biased processing of threat stimuli. The aim of this study was to minimize attention biases towards threat cues by training the up-regulation of the dlPFC. Furthermore, we were interested in potential effects the dlPFC feedback training could have on patients’ symptomatology. During this project, I became intrigued not only by the potential of neurofeedback as a novel therapeutic approach, but also by the method of NIRS and some of its methodological advantages over other neurophysiologi- cal methods. I am currently very enthusiastic about starting my PhD project, in which NIRS-neurofeedback will be used to train socio-emotional abilities in patients suffering from schizophre- nia. Ann-Christin Kimmig graduated from the Neural and Behavioral Sciences master’s program in 2016. She is currently a GTC doctoral student at the Clinic of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy in the Innovative Neuroimaging Group of Prof. Birgit Derntl. May 2017 | NEUROMAG | 9