Students Scanning The Brain Are Finding New Ways To Think About It
• Student research project involves brain scans and detail interpretations and analyses.In the Palos Verdes Promenade shopping mall there are groups of students studying at Starbucks, shoppers peaking into furniture shops and cars struggling to park in its triple-deck parking lot. And, at the PVNet Technology Center on the second floor, there are inventions being brainstormed and discoveries being made.
One ongoing program in the facility that attracted the attention of many is the Brain Entrainment Scientific Research course. The course was based on the psychological concept of “learned helplessness,” which is where a living thing is conditioned to feel powerless in the face of an obstacle or task due to experiencing a recurring event of failure or trauma. A famous example of this concept involves the procedure of keeping wild elephants in captivity.
“Once upon a time, a baby elephant would be tied to a tree trunk and trained to believe that it cannot escape,” clinical psychologist Dr. Carol Francis said. “Thus, once the elephant matures into an adult and is tied with a chain within close proximity to a tree trunk, it would automatically assume that it cannot leave said tree trunk.”
This phenomenon illustrates the mental captivity humans feel in certain situations that seem difficult to deal with; in other words, many learn to become helpless. This behavior branches into mental disorders like depression, anxiety and trauma reactions.
“[For a long time,] we believed that we were somewhat kidnapped by our minds and that we had to live cooperatively with how it thinks and fears,” Francis said. “However, we now know that we can actually impact how our brain functions.”
With this new knowledge now in mind, there have been studies regarding how to combat this psychological battle of learned helplessness. The ongoing program at PVNet, however, is the first study that involves a neurologic device called the BrainTap, which Francis has utilized on her patients for the last 30 years.
Once activated, the BrainTap alters the brain waves and patterns of its user, which results in said user’s thoughts being changed; in essence, it helps an individual overcome their own “learned helplessness.”
“[The BrainTap] inscribes the brain with the type of thoughts that may be beneficial to people,” Francis said.
This form of “brain entrainment” was experimented on individuals through a series of pre-tests that measured the degree of the subject’s feeling of “learned helplessness” through anxiety, depression and self-esteem as well as his or her mental and physical health.
Such measurements were also based on the person’s brain waves. The six high school students, as well as one graduate student, involved then presented their subjects with a task that was entirely impossible to do and recorded their reactions of feeling helpless at such a request. Throughout the experiment, the team also measured the subjects’ body systems such as heart rate and breathing pace.
After these pre-tests, the subjects were each given the BrainTap device with 700 protocols and were required to use at least one option for 22 minutes as well as a 60-second questionnaire for the 14 days that followed. At the end of these 14 days, the individuals took a post-test with the same materials as the pre-test to measure a possible improvement in the subjects’ “learned helplessness” levels.
“We just finished collecting the data [for our study,] and we are going to confirm and analyze this data on March 14,” Francis said.
This project began with Francis bringing the BrainTap and its possible usage for a study to PVNet founder and owner Ted Vegvari, to which Vegvari suggested involving students with all levels of experience as well to provide the youth in his facility an opportunity to understand the world of professional science and technology.
This suggestion aligns with Vegvari’s desire for his students at PVNet: to gain real experiences that are comparable to an adult professional in the field of science.
“It is a lot better [for the kids] to explore and find things that they are interested in [on their own],” Vegvari said.
Two of the main challenges that came with this study were the amount of dedication the test subjects had for their assignments and the amount of time the student interns invested in the project. Because there are not a lot of methods that can completely control human test subjects, there was some discrepancy in the data in terms of the accuracy of the individuals’ usage of the BrainTap.
Additionally, because the team entirely consisted of students with other responsibilities from school and other extracurriculars, not many had a lot of time to thoroughly carry out the experiment.
“Experiments involving humans is a lot harder than those involving amoebas or other organisms,” Francis said. “It is a lot harder to control humans, and it was difficult to have every test subject complete the 22-minute usage daily throughout the study.”
Regardless, this study on brain entrainment is one that could create new possibilities for science, for humans, for society as a whole. When an individual’s perspective can make up his or her world, the BrainTap may create a world with new innovations, new discoveries, new relationships––all just from saying, “I will try.”
“I think that ‘learned helplessness’ is the cornerstone to every difficulty that a person faces,” Francis said. “I hope that the BrainTap verifies what it has been claiming all along and that it can help users change the trajectory of their life.”