Pure visual imagery as a potential approach to achieve three classes of control for implementation of BCI in non-motor disorders

J Neural Eng. 2017 Aug;14(4):046026. doi: 10.1088/1741-2552/aa70ac.


Objective: The achievement of multiple instances of control with the same type of mental strategy represents a way to improve flexibility of brain-computer interface (BCI) systems. Here we test the hypothesis that pure visual motion imagery of an external actuator can be used as a tool to achieve three classes of electroencephalographic (EEG) based control, which might be useful in attention disorders.

Approach: We hypothesize that different numbers of imagined motion alternations lead to distinctive signals, as predicted by distinct motion patterns. Accordingly, a distinct number of alternating sensory/perceptual signals would lead to distinct neural responses as previously demonstrated using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We anticipate that differential modulations should also be observed in the EEG domain. EEG recordings were obtained from twelve participants using three imagery tasks: imagery of a static dot, imagery of a dot with two opposing motions in the vertical axis (two motion directions) and imagery of a dot with four opposing motions in vertical or horizontal axes (four directions). The data were analysed offline.

Main results: An increase of alpha-band power was found in frontal and central channels as a result of visual motion imagery tasks when compared with static dot imagery, in contrast with the expected posterior alpha decreases found during simple visual stimulation. The successful classification and discrimination between the three imagery tasks confirmed that three different classes of control based on visual motion imagery can be achieved. The classification approach was based on a support vector machine (SVM) and on the alpha-band relative spectral power of a small group of six frontal and central channels. Patterns of alpha activity, as captured by single-trial SVM closely reflected imagery properties, in particular the number of imagined motion alternations.

Significance: We found a new mental task based on visual motion imagery with potential for the implementation of multiclass (3) BCIs. Our results are consistent with the notion that frontal alpha synchronization is related with high internal processing demands, changing with the number of alternation levels during imagery. Together, these findings suggest the feasibility of pure visual motion imagery tasks as a strategy to achieve multiclass control systems with potential for BCI and in particular, neurofeedback applications in non-motor (attentional) disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain-Computer Interfaces / classification*
  • Electroencephalography / classification*
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Young Adult