But scientific research is scant. Even if the devices work as promised, some question whether people who use biofeedback devices will be able to replicate their relaxed or focused states in real life, when they’re not attached to equipment in front of their television or computer.
Elkhonon Goldberg, clinical professor of neurology at New York University, said the toys might catch on in a society obsessed with optimizing performance – but he was skeptical they’d reduce the severity of major behavioral disorders.
”These techniques are used usually in clinical contexts. The gaming companies are trying to push the envelope,” said Goldberg, author of ”The Wisdom Paradox: How Your Mind Can Grow Stronger As Your Brain Grows Older.” ”You can use computers to improve the cognitive abilities, but it’s an art.”
It’s also unclear whether consumers, particularly American kids, want mentally taxing games.
”It’s hard to tell whether playing games with biofeedback is more fun – the company executives say that, but I don’t know if I believe them,” said Ben Sawyer, director of the Games for Health Project, a division of the Serious Games Initiative. The think tank focuses in part on how to make computer games more educational, not merely pastimes for kids with dexterous thumbs.
The basis of many brain wave-reading games is electroencephalography, or EEG, the measurement of the brain’s electrical activity through electrodes placed on the scalp. EEG has been a mainstay of psychiatry for decades.
An EEG headset in a research hospital may have 100 or more electrodes that attach to the scalp with a conductive gel. It could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
But the price and size of EEG hardware is shrinking. NeuroSky’s ”dry-active” sensors don’t require gel, are the size of a thumbnail, and could be put into a headset that retails for as little as $20, said NeuroSky CEO Stanley Yang.
Yang is secretive about his company’s product lineup because of a nondisclosure agreement with the manufacturer. But he said an international toy manufacturer plans to unveil an inexpensive gizmo with an embedded NeuroSky biosensor at the Japan Toy Association’s trade show in late June. A U.S. version is scheduled to debut at the American International Fall Toy Show in October.
”Whatever we sell, it will work on 100 percent or almost 100 percent of people out there, no matter what the condition, temperature, indoor or outdoors,” Yang said. ”We aim for wearable technology that everyone can put on and go without failure, as easy as the iPod.”