Talking with hands and feet: Selective somatosensory attention and fMRI enable robust and convenient brain-based communication

Cynthia Van de Wauw, Lars Riecke, Rainer Goebel, Amanda Kaas, Bettina Sorger

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In brain-based communication, voluntarily modulated brain signals (instead of motor output) are utilized to interact with the outside world. The possibility to circumvent the motor system constitutes an important alternative option for severely paralyzed. Most communication brain-computer interface (BCI) paradigms require intact visual capabilities and impose a high cognitive load, but for some patients, these requirements are not given. In these situations, a better-suited, less cognitively demanding information-encoding approach may exploit auditorily-cued selective somatosensory attention to vibrotactile stimulation. Here, we propose, validate and optimize a novel communication-BCI paradigm using differential fMRI activation patterns evoked by selective somatosensory attention to tactile stimulation of the right hand or left foot. Using cytoarchitectonic probability maps and multi-voxel patterns analysis (MVPA), we show that the locus of selective somatosensory attention can be decoded from internally generated fMRI signal patterns from fMRI-signal patterns in (especially primary) somatosensory cortex with high accuracy and reliability, with the highest classification accuracy (85.93%) achieved when using Brodmann area 2 (SI-BA2) at a probability level of 0.2. Based on this outcome, we developed and validated a novel somatosensory attention-based yes/no communication procedure and demonstrated its high effectiveness even when using only a limited amount of (MVPA) training data. For the BCI user, the paradigm is straightforward, eye-independent, and requires only limited cognitive functioning. In addition, it is BCI-operator friendly given its objective and expertise-independent procedure. For these reasons, our novel communication paradigm has high potential for clinical applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120172
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2023


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