The arrival of cheap, portable EEG (electroencephalography) equipment in the last ten years has been a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you have initiatives like the OpenEEG project, which has democratised access to good-quality EEG hardware and software for researchers and hobbyists. On the other you have a huge proliferation of neuromarketing companies using the technology in (often) ridiculous ways.
Up until yesterday, my favourite example was this from Red Bull, who tried to record the brain activity of surfers with some waterproofed EEG gear. However, a video recently released by Porsche just took it to a whole new level. Porsche is the well-known midlife-crisis-enabling company that makes expensive toys for micro-phallused executives, but they clearly have ambitions to make a splash in the world of neuroscience with their latest stunt. Here’s the video:
…in which a test subject is first strapped into a jet fighter, and then a Porsche on a racetrack while his brain activity is putatively monitored in real time by a scientist. The claim is that pulling G’s in a Porsche is (nearly) as exciting as being in a jet fighter doing aerobatics.
There is so much wrong with this, that we could be here for hours, but let’s just pick a few of the major issues:
1. The video implies that the EEG monitoring is in real-time i.e. while the subject is up in the aircraft, or in the car. I don’t know what wireless protocol they’re using for that, but it’s definitely not one I’m familiar with.
2. They claim to be monitoring activity from the nucleus accumbens, a fairly deep brain nucleus, part of the basal ganglia, and a key component in the brain’s reward circuitry. Surface (scalp) EEG is really only good for recording activity from the surface of the brain (the cortex). I can’t find any human EEG work that claims to get signals from the nucleus accumbens, and I’d be very surprised if it were even possible (EEG’s not my area though, so feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong on this one!).
3. Even if it were possible to get signals from the accumbens, they claim to be measuring dopamine release. No. NO. EEG measures the electrical activity of the brain. That’s it. This is a flat-out lie.
4. The subject’s head is banging around like crazy in both situations, and he’s gurning like Bez in the 90s. As this video very clearly shows, you get huge EEG artefacts just by smiling, or moving your eyes around, so the EEG data they’re recording must be absolute crap.
5. The putative ‘scientist’, Dr Robert Van Der Linden, who conducts the tests doesn’t actually seem to exist. I can’t find any evidence of him anyway. Is this guy just an actor?
6. For the fighter jet segment the subject’s helmet actually has ‘Maverick’ on it, FFS.
For more neurotwattery see the accompanying website, which has the marvellous tagline “The cars that will stimulate your prefrontal cortex”. I… just… can’t even.