Consumer EEG, Mental and Emotional States, Privacy and the Brain (2018-2019)


What if you could control the world around you with your thoughts and a simple, portable device? Companies like Emotiv, Neurosky and Interaxon are just some of the companies that manufacture portable consumer-based headsets that claim to do just that. While this isn’t quite mind control, we are getting closer to that future possibility.

These headsets sense the electrical activity inside a person’s brain using a technique known as electroencephalography, or EEG. These electrodes can measure the electrical signals produced by the brain's neurons through the scalp. EEG can be used to determine an individual’s level of attention, emotional state and even processing of complex questions.

While EEG has been used as a diagnostic tool for more than half a century, consumer-based devices that are simple, portable and easy for individual use are just now on the market.

These consumer-based EEG devices, which are being used by the military and sports teams to detect fatigue, are marketed and sold to everyday consumers for tracking and improving their own brain activity through neurofeedback. This accessibility makes the process of running EEG experiments more efficient, while also allowing for the expansion of EEG research to non-traditional settings. However, these devices raise a unique concern about collecting and sharing data practices because of their unprecedented ability to gather real-time brain activity in everyday situations (e.g., education, employment, fitness or gaming). This collection of neural activity in the brain—and inferences about what that brain activity means with respect to basic internal emotional and physical states is possible.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project has two parts: (1) further exploring consumer attitudes and privacy implications as well as behavior and judgments towards brain data and analytics, and (2) applying principles of neuromarketing to see how these consumer-based devices can be used to detect emotional and mental states in individuals and how those mental states may be relevant to law.

Specific questions the project team will explore are: How do people feel about the collection of their brain data through these devices, relative to other sensitive information that is already collected about them? Are there differences among consumer EEG early adopters, nonusers of consumer EEG devices and neuroscience experts with regard to their perceptions of brain privacy? To what extent can we detect different emotional states (i.e., empathy, fear, happiness and/or sadness) in focus groups of potential jurors listening to an attorney presenting a legal case?

To answer these questions, the team uses several different methods. For the privacy project, the team will build on the existing data we have collected about consumer beliefs about the collection of brain data and analytics. We will also construct and administer surveys to different groups (including the general population, consumer purchasers of EEG devices and neuroscience experts) to determine if ones’ experience with brain data affects their attitude towards brain data and analytics.

For the second part of the project, detecting mental states and the brain, the team will first design a pilot study to determine the ability of the consumer-based EEG devices to detect mental states in individuals. From there the team will begin running participants in “mock juror” focus groups in which we will track and record participants' emotional and mental states via the consumer-based EEG devices while they listen to different opening/closing remarks relevant to the legal system.

Anticipated Outcomes

Written and oral presentations of findings; publications; poster presentations at annual meeting of International Neuroethics Society or other venues


Summer 2018 – Spring 2019

Detecting Mental States and the Brain

  • Summer 2018: Refine methodology, submit IRB, run pilot EEG study
  • Fall 2018: Run EEG “mock juror” focus groups
  • Spring 2019: Analyze EEG data, write-up/present study

Privacy and the Brain

  • Summer 2018: Refine methodology, revise IRB
  • Fall 2018: Begin collecting online survey data
  • Spring 2019: Analyze survey data, write-up/present study

Team Outcomes to Date

Consumer EEG, Attention, and Emotion Efficacy (poster by Ian Miles, Raven Leal, Daniel Sprague, Caroline Anderson, Dmitry Isaev, William L.D. Krenzer, Guillermo Sapiro, Nita A. Farahany, presented at Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 17, 2019)

Perceptions of Brain Privacy and Data Sensitivity (poster by Cameron Fox, Kirsten Bleiweiss, Willa Stevenson, Brendan Burg, Xinyi Hong, Shikhar Gupta, William L.D. Krenzer, Nita A. Farahany, presented at Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 17, 2019)

This Team in the News

Building an EEG Lab and Gathering Consumer Opinion On Brain Privacy

See related teams, Consumer EEG Devices: Attention, Emotion, Privacy and the Brain (2019-2020) and Privacy, Consumer EEG Devices and the Brain (2017-2018).

Bass Connections team members

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

  • Kirsten Bleiweiss, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM
  • Cameron Fox, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM
  • Dmitry Isaev, Biomedical Engineering-PHD
  • Lydia Kwong, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Caroline Anderson
  • Brendan Burg, Psychology (AB)
  • Shikhar Gupta, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Xinyi Hong, Psychology (BS)
  • Raven Leal, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Ian Miles
  • Daniel Sprague
  • Willa Stevenson, Psychology (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Donald Beskind, Duke Law