NeuroCAM Tech Review: The MUSEic of Brainwaves

If you could listen to your brainwaves, you would hear a symphony of brain areas all communicating with each other through harmonized notes.  Usually, this would require about $60K to get the Electroencephalogram (EEG) equipment needed to record brainwaves. However, a commercially available piece of NeuroCAM Tech (MUSE) could let you record your brainwaves for as low as $200. For a price so much less, one needs to ask if the science of MUSE is legit?

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Before I get into reviewing the neuroscience of MUSE, would you like to listen to what a brain's song could sound like? Someone converted an EEG recording into notes, so it's literally the music of the brain! Have a listen!

There is a lot of neuro "stuff" you could buy right now that is supposed to #lifehack your brain into making it better. Good science is just as much about showing that something doesn't work as it is about showing cool results. Unfortunately, the free market doesn't use the same standards as science, and there can be a lot of snake oil in the health and wellness industry disguised as neurotech. I thought this could be an excellent opportunity for Ty the NeuroGuy to examine the quality of the science of one such product. 

The product is the MUSE EEG-based biofeedback headband. The science behind MUSE is simple and intuitive. If you have a behaviour that you want (e.g. focused attention), reward it, so you get more of it.  If you have a behaviour you don't like (e.g. feeling frantic and scatterbrained), remove something annoying when you stop it. These Operant Conditioning Principles have been around for so long, that Sheldon from Big Bang Theory used them on Penny in just the 3rd season! I highly recommend you watch the linked video; it's a great (and entertaining) explanation of these principles. MUSE enters the tech game by defining the behaviour (your mental state) to be changed by your brainwaves (through an EEG recording). And instead of rewards in the form of chocolates, the muse app uses pretty nature sounds. 

Now that you know how the MUSE system works, the next question to ask is, does it work?

If you go to Google Scholar and search for: MUSE EEG 2017 (Yes, I'm making you look up the references this time), one of the first hits should be an article titled: "Choosing MUSE: Validation of a low-cost, portable EEG system for ERP research." Without getting into the weeds, this scientific article outlines how the recording quality from MUSE is comparable to a $60K EEG recording system, only that it has fewer channels that are just by your forehead. If you want to listen to your brainwaves, this is awesome, because you only need a couple of channels (like the EEG-Music video). But if you want to give a microphone to every brain area (like you would in lots of neuroscience research), then you would need the more expensive EEG system. 

Thankfully, Operant Conditioning doesn't require every brain area to have a microphone, just a few of the biggest contributors to the brainwave symphony. The question then becomes, do pretty sounds played in response to your brainwaves change the way your brain operates? To answer that question, let's check out the MUSE website's research page. One thing cool about MUSE is that they have a handful of peer-reviewed studies, the gold standard of science, that use their device. One of the studies (Attentional and Affective Consequences of Technology Supported Mindfulness: a Randomised Trial) will take you to a study showing that after only 10 minutes a day for 6 weeks, people using MUSE (as opposed to watching educational videos for the same time) showed evidence of better attention and reported lower negative emotions. It's important to note that one of the authors of the study did have some affiliation with MUSE, so there might be some bias in this study, but overall it looks like some reasonable science suggests MUSE does what it says it does. 

One final thing to check out on the MUSE website is the link to Neuroscientists Study Meditation-Related Changes in Brain Performance. While this video does a great job of showcasing the science, it is not a peer-reviewed article and shouldn't be treated as evidence to the same extent as the articles in the previous paragraphs. Some other snake oil based neurotech might try to use videos like this in place of actual science, so now you know not to be fooled! Always look to see if you can find anything about the tech on Google Scholar. See that's why I had you look it up!

So the verdict is in for the first NeuroCAM Tech Review: MUSE has scientific evidence to boost your brain. However, it's important to acknowledge the limitations of the tech too, and I wouldn't recommend it if you want the complete symphony of your brain. But hey, for $200 that is still a pretty good deal. I had spent more money on textbooks that have only been used to prop my car up when it had a flat tire, so it's not a bad investment if you want to get in touch with your brain's symphony.