Sustained attention is a cognitive ability to maintain task focus over extended periods of time (Mackworth, 1948; Chun, Golomb, & Turk-Browne, 2011). In this study, scalp electroencephalography (EEG) signals were processed in real time using a 32 dry-electrode system during a sustained visual attention task. An attention training paradigm was implemented, as designed in DeBettencourt, Cohen, Lee, Norman, and Turk-Browne (2015) in which the composition of a sequence of blended images is updated based on the participant's decoded attentional level to a primed image category. It was hypothesized that a single neurofeedback training session would improve sustained attention abilities. Twenty-two participants were trained on a single neurofeedback session with behavioral pretraining and posttraining sessions within three consecutive days. Half of the participants functioned as controls in a double-blinded design and received sham neurofeedback.
During the neurofeedback session, attentional states to primed categories were decoded in real time and used to provide a continuous feedback signal customized to each participant in a closed-loop approach. We report a mean classifier decoding error rate of 34.3% (chance 50%). Within the neurofeedback group, there was a greater level of task-relevant attentional information decoded in the participant's brain before making a correct behavioral response than before an incorrect response. This effect was not visible in the control group (interaction e4), which strongly indicates that we were able to achieve a meaningful measure of subjective attentional state in real time and control participants' behavior during the neurofeedback session. We do not provide conclusive evidence whether the single neurofeedback session per se provided lasting effects in sustained attention abilities.
We developed a portable EEG neurofeedback system capable of decoding attentional states and predicting behavioral choices in the attention task at hand. The neurofeedback code framework is Python based and open source, and it allows users to actively engage in the development of neurofeedback tools for scientific and translational use.