Tracking momentary fluctuations in human attention with a cognitive brain-machine interface

Commun Biol. 2022 Dec 8;5(1):1346. doi: 10.1038/s42003-022-04231-w.


Selective attention produces systematic effects on neural states. It is unclear whether, conversely, momentary fluctuations in neural states have behavioral significance for attention. We investigated this question in the human brain with a cognitive brain-machine interface (cBMI) for tracking electrophysiological steady-state visually evoked potentials (SSVEPs) in real-time. Discrimination accuracy (d') was significantly higher when target stimuli were triggered at high, versus low, SSVEP power states. Target and distractor SSVEP power was uncorrelated across the hemifields, and target d' was unaffected by distractor SSVEP power states. Next, we trained participants on an auditory neurofeedback paradigm to generate biased, cross-hemispheric competitive interactions between target and distractor SSVEPs. The strongest behavioral effects emerged when competitive SSVEP dynamics unfolded at a timescale corresponding to the deployment of endogenous attention. In sum, SSVEP power dynamics provide a reliable readout of attentional state, a result with critical implications for tracking and training human attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Brain-Computer Interfaces*
  • Cognition
  • Humans