Viewing and changing emotions in real-time with new brain imaging tool

A world-first technology that combines virtual reality, a brain computer interface and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is providing new insights into brain activity during complex emotional states.

The neurofeedback tool, which enables study participants to voluntarily regulate their brain activity in real-time, was developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers at Monash Biomedical Imaging and the D’Or Institute in Brazil.

The tool was first tested by examining brain activity as study participants experienced positive and negative emotions. These emotions were evoked in the participants through listening to music and viewing a virtual environment from within the MRI scanner. The participants were also connected to a brain computer interface.

The researchers then asked the participants to regulate, increase or decrease their positive and negative emotions. As participants changed their emotional response, the brain computer interface changed the colour of the virtual environment, which gave participants visual feedback on how much or how little they were activating their brain pathways linked to positive and negative affect.

After successfully being tested at Monash Biomedical Imaging and at the D’Or Institute, the tool now has promising applications for brain-based interventions in healthy subjects and may find applications in clinical conditions including anxiety and stress.

Read the research paper Frontiers in Neurology.

View a video of the neurofeedback tool being used during a study to test its validity at Monash Biomedical Imaging.