Start-Up Seeks To Tap Mind Power
by Thomas MacMillan | Sep 25, 2012 2:20 pm
Posted to: Business/ Economic Development
With 128 electrodes connected to her scalp, Socheata Poeuv gazed intently at a computer monitor, where a graph slowly changed from red to blue, indicating her entrance into a state of “flow.”
Basketball players call it being “in the zone”: the opposing team seems to slow down, the hoop gets bigger and bigger. A jazz pianist might say he’s “in the groove”: music emerges effortlessly from his fingertips.
Flow is that most enjoyable of mental states, when one is absorbed, relaxed, creative, focused—performing at one’s peak without distraction or anxiety. Poeuv (pictured) is trying to help more people reach that place as the “Chief Executive Guru” of a new New Haven start-up called goBlue.
Based on the research of company founder Judson Brewer, a Yale psychiatry professor, goBlue is working to develop a tool for measuring when people have achieved a flow state and then training people to reach that state more and more easily in their chosen field.
Poeuv, a filmmaker and recent Yale business school graduate, said goBlue plans to start with elite athletes trying to improve their game. Initially, goBlue will offer its services to athletes and others interested in peak performance and productivity. The company aims eventually to create an off-the-shelf product that people can use on their own to train themselves to reach a state of relaxed creativity.
goBLue, created in June, was one of two New Haven start-ups selected this month for $25,000 grants from Connecticut Innovations’ TechStart Accelerator program, designed to help launch technology businesses. The other city company was Exerscript dPrevention, which is working on a web-based product to support people with diabetes.
The $25,000 will supplement goBlue’s current funding, which comes entirely from angel investors and is paying for goBlue’s current task at hand—proving its concept and developing a working prototype.
One recent afternoon Pouev was working towards that goal by offering herself up as a test subject. In a third-floor corner office in a business incubator space at at 5 Science Park, Poeuv sat in a rolling black office chair while goBlue “Chief Scientific Guru” Stephanie Noble and intern Andrew McCurdy plugged 128 electrodes into a close-fitting red cap tightly cinched under her chin.
Noble, a recent Princeton graduate, explained the science behind the concept as she used a syringe to squirt conductive gel into the cap’s electrode ports.
goBlue is trying to replicate and commercialize Brewer’s research on the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain. By sticking experienced meditators into a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, Brewer found that a certain part of the brain, the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), showed decreased blood flow when the subjects were in a meditative state, having achieved flow.
goBlue’s current goal is to achieve similar results with an electroencephalography (EEG) machine, which measures brain activity in the form of surface electricity. This presents distinct limitations relatives to an fMRI, which can look deep into the brain. But EEG technology is less expensive, more portable, and “potentially commercially scalable,” Poeuv said.
One of the challenges Noble is working on now is “source localization”—making sure the EEG is measuring the part of the brain that shows the presence of a meditative state.
Once all the electrodes were in place, Noble and McCurdy hooked the leads up to a box that fed into Noble’s Dell Precision laptop, where a rainbow of wavy lines appeared on the screen, corresponding to all the electrical impulses being measured off of Poeuv’s head. Some of the lines veered wildly, like a seismograph read-out during an earthquake, prompting Noble to pop out the corresponding electrode and squirt more gel onto Poeuv’s scalp.
A goal is to eventually come up with a “dry” EEG cap, one that doesn’t require the gel, Poeuv said.
“Can you close your eyes?” Noble asked. The colored lines immediately formed into tight jagged peaks, indicating the presence of Alpha wave brain activity. “Ok, great,” Noble said.
Noble then ran Poeuv through a battery of tests designed to see if the EEG is picking up what she wants it to pick up. Poeuv stared at a black cross in the center of a computer monitor, while red squares flashed intermittently on other parts of the screen. It’s a calibration test to measure the stimulation of the visual cortex, Noble explained.
Noble then moved into the “goBlue protocol,” part of the testing and training that the company plans to do with athletes. As Poeuv sat quietly, looking at the monitor, four graphs appeared. As they expanded from left to right, the graphs showed red above a center line, blue below. The blue is part of the companies name, an indication of the state the company is trying to help people to reach.
“Three, Two, One”
In Brewer’s original fMRI research, the computer readout indicated with the color blue when meditators reached a state of deeper presence and mindfulness. Thus the name—goBlue.
“The aim is to get out of your head,” Poeuv said. In a state of flow, of mindfulness, the mind is simply absorbed in the task at hand, free from the chattering distractions of anxious, neurotic, or obsessive thoughts. It’s a state that sports psychologists try to help athletes achieve on the field
The idea behind goBlue is that with real-time feedback into the presence of this mental state, athletes can begin to train themselves to “get in the zone” at will, improving their performance on the field.
“All right, we’re going to go online. Three, two, one.”
Noble punched the laptop keyboard and orange and blue graphs began growing on the monitor in front of Poeuv.
In four tests, Poeuv watched the graphs on the screen while focusing on her breath, counting each inhalation and exhalation. After each test, Noble asked her about the correlation between the graph and her experience of her own mental state.
Since the previous calibration tests had been somewhat inconclusive, it was unclear if the EEG was accurately measuring Poeuv’s absorption into mindfulness. Poeuv herself was skeptical about it, saying that one of the graphs showed the precise opposite of what her experience had been.
Later, as Noble used dish soap to wash the gel off electrode array and Poeuv’s red cap, she said goBlue is still in the preliminary stages, trying to get “a clear signal to noise ratio” from the EEG.
The company is hiring more scientists, doing more tests, trying to stick to the “to do” list written on a white board in the office: Complete a prototype by February 2013, ship the final version to customers by December 2013, “achieve break even” by January 2015.
Tags: mindfulness, goBlue, Socheata Poeuv, fMRI
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I thought biorhythms faded with the seventies…...
My advice to people today is as follows: if you take the game of life seriously, if you take your nervous system seriously, if you take your sense organs seriously, if you take the energy process seriously, you must turn on, tune in, and drop out.
If the point of this is to replicate a meditative state then learn meditation. There are no shortcuts to mental clarity. This is a good example of how we like to spend good money on silly gadgets.
These folks do good work along with a lot of meditation.
While marketing this to athletes is counterproductive (imho), I don’t think this kind of science is any silly endeavor.
Especially once you become aware that the world is made up of our consciousness.