November 25, 2020

Decoding the covert shift of spatial attention from electroencephalographic signals permits reliable control of a brain-computer interface

Objective: One of the main goals of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) is to restore communication abilities in patients. BCIs often use event-related potentials (ERPs) like the P300 which signals the presence of a target in a stream of stimuli. The P300 and related approaches, however, are inherently limited, as they require many stimulus presentations to obtain a usable control signal. Many approaches depend on gaze-direction to focus the target, which is also not a viable approach in many cases, because eye movements might be impaired in potential users. Here we report on a BCI that avoids both shortcomings by decoding spatial target information, independent of gaze shifts. Approach: We present a new method to decode from the electroencephalogram (EEG) covert shifts of attention to one out of four targets simultaneously presented in the left and right visual field. The task is designed to evoke the N2pc component – a hemisphere lateralized response, elicited over the occipital scalp contralateral to the attended target. The decoding approach involves decoding of the N2pc based on data-driven estimation of spatial filters and a correlation measure. Main results: Despite variability of decoding performance across subjects, 22 out of 24 subjects performed well above chance level. Six subjects even exceeded 80% (cross-validated: 89%) correct predictions in a four-class discrimination task. Hence, the single-trial N2pc proves to be a component that allows for reliable BCI control. An offline analysis of the EEG data with respect to their dependence on stimulation time and number of classes demonstrates that the present method is also a workable approach for two-class tasks. Significance: Our method extends the range of strategies for gaze-independent BCI control. The proposed decoding approach has the potential to be efficient in similar applications intended to decode ERPs.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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