Color with your brain!
Nowadays, it is harder than ever to focus. Whether it is our noisy urban neighborhoods or the temptation to check our phones every two minutes, our modern lives conspire against our mindfulness.
gif from Pinterest
Since I am interested in the neuroscience aspect of attention and specifically how brain waves work, I chose to use the MUSE EEG headset to explore the power of the brain.
Based on academic research, alpha and gamma waves have a major influence on the concentration abilities of the brain.
I tested on myself to observe how the headset and its application works and chose to work with alpha waves since they were more reliable with this headset.
Pictures and illustrations from Pinterest
I started by designing visual puzzles. I illustrated three different puzzles (pictures below). I recruited user testers and asked them to solve each puzzle while listening to different noises. First, solving #1 while listening to loud background noise that I recorded in a crowded and noisy cafe. Second, solving #2 while listening to D12’s loud noise. Finally, solving #3 without listening to any additional noise. The goal was to observe how different sounds affect concentration and performance in different people.
For testing my design in Open Frameworks, I made a pattern inspired by Iranian architecture.
I left some elements hidden in the pattern. Elements like places and the things that I like in Tehran and New York City.
It is time to test it in Open Frameworks:
I designed a visual game with this pattern. The circle grows as the user concentrates, allowing the user to see more of the pattern. At first, each time that the user had lost concentration, the circle reset to zero. It was tough to concentrate on the first attempt to resize the circle all the way to its maximum size, so I changed my design.
This time the circle did not reset to zero, meaning that if the user lost concentration the circle stayed at the same size until the user concentrates again and makes the circle bigger. In this design, the pattern would still be revealed incrementally in tandem with the growth of the circle.
I could control the difficulty by setting the alpha variable in my code to a lower number, so the players had to concentrate deeper in order to resize the circle (when Alpha < 13 it means that the player is concentrating. I set the variable to 9 to make it more difficult.) All the players were able to make the circle bigger on their own when I set the difficulty level to easy; however, they had a problem when I made the game harder. I ran more tests to gain more information about this process. It has been demonstrated in studies that coloring has a measurable positive effect on adults’ concentration. When I asked my players to color the same pattern that was on the screen on a physical paper with color pencils, the results were amazing.
I added the colored version to my visual game to make the coloring process digital. Now players color the black and white pattern as they concentrate. So there is already something on the screen (black and white pattern) to focus on.
I tested my game at our pop-up show. At first, I chose an average alpha number (15) for my players to start with, but then I realized that the number is too easy or too hard for some people. So I started to run a short test first to read each individual player's alpha numbers, so I could assign an alpha number to make the game challenging enough for each person. On MajorMajor Day, 35 different people tested my game and the result for each person was unique and interesting - observing them taught me a lot about the concentration process.
People who were familiar with meditation performed the best. All of the players with Alpha numbers below 9 (a very concentrated mind) practiced meditation. Those people had a very calm mind in general as well. All of their five brain waves were less wavy and were tending towards straight lines.
After talking to Noah (one of our guest critics), I realized that my users needed more guidance on how to concentrate. I started to tell my users to take a deep breath and clear their minds. I gave them two options: either to focus on the pattern on the screen or to picture a clear blue sky, green grass, or their personal happy place. The results were amazing! Guiding the players had a distinct effect on their performances, especially when they were stuck and could not make the circle bigger.
For all of the players, it was interesting to see the result of their concentration visually. Although they were not familiar with this traditional Iranian pattern, they found the pattern pleasing to look at and asked me about it.
In this version, the background kept glitching. Therefore, it became harder to focus and concentrate on the screen. In my opinion, this piece is the closest attempt to show the user how hard it can be to concentrate while having a lot of distractions around. This piece can be a simulation of how concentration can be challenging for Iranian people who are regularly exposed to bad news and have a lot of distractions.
This is a fun game that helps users relax and concentrate at the same time - a meditation tool with a visual outcome. Based on the user feedback, having a visual outcome not only can be an excellent motivation to meditate but also provides evidence that they are actually doing something that is affecting their mind. I still do not know if this tool can have a long term effect on increasing concentration power and I would like to run a scientific test to be able to get reliable scientific results (for example having a control group and observing them over time.) In future iterations, I want to build a tool that can assist people in the concentration process in a more engaging way. I will use the MUSE headset as a monitoring tool to see how this is a fun game that helps users to relax and concentrate. It is the start of a meditation tool with a visual component. Based on the feedback that I received from my users, having a visual outcome not only can be an excellent motivation to meditate more but also ensures that they are actually doing something that is affecting their minds. I still do not know if this tool can have a long-term effect on increasing the concentration power and I would like to run a scientific test to be able to get reliable scientific results (for example having a control group and observing them over time). In future iterations, I want to build a tool that can assist people in the concentration process in a more engaging way. I will use the MUSE headset as a monitoring tool to see how much my future design will affect concentration and not necessarily as my main game tool.
I am thinking about adding a physical piece to my project. I printed this pattern on a piece of fabric and painted it with conductive ink and stitched it with conductive thread to explore a little bit more about my future physical design. I am definitely interested in working on this project in my next semester and look forward to continuing my exploration of harnessing the power of the brain.
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