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Electrical Stimulation Improves Reaction Time, Feels Natural

Many aspects of medicine are now expanding beyond the treatment of disease, including techniques to help make us smarter, stronger, and faster. Our reaction times are often too slow for many tasks, but electrical muscle stimulation can make us grab and push things faster than our brains can will it. The problem with using this technology in practical education, in virtual reality environments, and to even improve how fast soldiers react, is that the feeling is unnatural. It makes one feel like someone else is in control of the muscles being stimulated.

Now, a team of scientists has developed a way to use electrical muscle stimulation to improve reaction times while making it feel like the actions are one’s own.

Through experiments, the researchers noted that if electrical stimulation is applied within a certain time before the conscious decision is taken, people feel like it was them that triggered the muscles to contract. The timing still allows for considerable improvement in a person’s reaction, but it doesn’t feel artificial, according to the volunteers in the study.

The researchers used their system while a group of people were touching objects within a virtual reality animation and wearing EEG headsets that measure brainwaves. When they made contact with the objects was aided by various stimulants, including vibration, visual cues, and electrical muscle stimulation. The researchers noted that the brain generates certain brainwaves that seem to indicate that it’s noting a disconnect between different actions, demonstrating that there needs to be a way of fooling it if stimulation is to be used to improve human performance.

Here’s a great video explaining the study and showing how it was done:

Related paper: Detecting Visuo-Haptic Mismatches in Virtual Reality using the Prediction Error Negativity of Event-Related Brain Potentials

Via: University of Chicago

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