Consumer EEG Devices: Attention, Emotion, Privacy and the Brain (2019-2020)


What if you could control the world around you with your thoughts and a simple, portable device? Emotiv, Neurosky and Interaxon are just some of the companies that manufacture portable consumer-based headsets that claim to do just that. These headsets sense the electrical activity inside a person’s brain using a technique known as electroencephalography, or EEG. 

Consumer-based EEG devices, which are marketed and sold to consumers for tracking and improving their brain activity through neurofeedback, prompt unique privacy and data-sharing concerns because of their unprecedented ability to gather and decode real-time brain activity in everyday contexts such as education, employment, gaming and fitness. These devices are currently being used by the military, sports teams and industry as well as by countries like China and Chile, which are monitoring attention, distraction and cognitive load by professionals in industries such as high-speed train and truck driving.

Additional research is necessary to create a broader understanding of the privacy concerns and attitudes in users and nonusers associated with consumer EEG devices.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project team will build on the research conducted by the 2018-2019 team to tackle questions relating to privacy and analytic validity of consumer-based EEG devices.

Team members will construct and administer surveys to the general population to gain a nuanced perspective of the views on privacy of brain data across contexts. Ethical, legal and policy questions to be addressed include:

  • What are the contextual privacy norms associated with the aggregation of brain analytics by different organizations (e.g., government agencies, insurance companies, social media companies, for-profit companies)?
  • Are there differences in individuals’ perceptions of brain privacy depending on the amount of experience they have with EEG or other brain data?
  • Do expectations of privacy with respect to brain data reflect a lack of understanding of or belief in the capabilities of brain decoding?
  • What are the policy implications of consumer attitudes toward privacy?

Team members will also design and implement a validity study to consider questions such as:

  • Can consumer EEG devices measure different types of emotions such as positive, neutral or negative emotions?
  • Are there more specific emotions that can be validly measured with these devices?
  • How does context impact attention and emotions that are being measured (e.g., individuals in a group listening to a speaker versus one-on-one listening to a speaker)?
  • Can outcomes be validated in different settings (e.g., do the speaker/listener situations set out during the 2018-2019 project apply to other settings like a speaker/listener in a classroom setting or a theatrical production)?

Anticipated Outputs

Manuscripts for publication; oral and poster presentations at annual meeting of International Neuroethics Society as well as other venues


Summer 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Summer 2019 (Optional): Review and update the survey methodology previously used
  • Fall 2019: Refine and submit IRB; run surveys and EEG studies
  • Spring 2020: Collect and analyze data; develop manuscripts

Team Outputs to Date

Analyzing EEG Data (Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase 2020)

Methodology for EEG Data Analysis Using FieldTrip ToolBox (poster by Daniel Sprague, Tolulemi Gbile, Shenyang Huang, Caroline Anderson, Karan Desai, William L. D. Krenzer, Nita Farahany)

Efficacy of Consumer-based EEG Devices for Conducting Future Research (poster by Allison Kunstler, Gabriela McDonald, Shikhar Gupta, Umika Paul, William L. D. Krenzer, Nita Farahany)

This Team in the News

Meet the Members of the 2019-2020 Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

See related teams, Mobile EEG Devices: Group Interactions, Privacy and the Brain (2020-2021) and Consumer EEG, Mental and Emotional States, Privacy and the Brain (2018-2019).


Image: EEG device Brainco, by tomemrich, licensed under CC BY 2.0

EEG device Brainco.

Team Leaders

  • Nita Farahany, Duke Law|Arts & Sciences-Philosophy
  • William Krenzer, Science & Society
  • Guillermo Sapiro, Pratt School of Engineering-Electrical & Computer Engineering

/graduate Team Members

  • Claire Simmons, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Caroline Anderson, Biology (BS)
  • Karan Desai
  • Tolulemi Gbile
  • Shikhar Gupta, Neuroscience (BS), Public Policy Studies (AB2)
  • Shenyang Huang, Neuroscience (BS), Mathematics (BS2)
  • Allison Kunstler
  • Gabriela McDonald, Biology (BS)
  • Umika Paul, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE)
  • Daniel Sprague, Computer Science (BS)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Emotiv
  • NeuroPlus