Dr. Marvin Andujar (right) and the brain-painting research and development team at the University of South Florida (all images courtesy Dr. Andujar and USF)

Researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) have released news of a tool that can potentially help hone human concentration through the creation of art with only the power of the mind.

“We’re asking people to use their brains in a way they never have used it before,” said Marvin Andujar, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at USF and research lab director for the Neuro-Machine Interaction Lab, in a video about the project. “Brain painting requires a lot of concentration.”

The process involves a non-invasive electroencephalography (EEG) cap that records data from the parietal lobe of the brain, enabling the machine to detect when the user is focusing on the stimulus on the screen. In this case, the stimuli are objects on the screen such as squares, circles, or stars, which the user can engage with to create the painting.

“The brain painting software along with the EEG cap is trying to capture a wave from the brain that we all have called the P300 wave,” Andujar told Hyperallergic in an interview. “This wave is elicited when humans respond to a stimulus. A good example of this wave response is when we are watching a movie and we see a scene that we are interested in — maybe a fight scene, or story reveal.”

Some of the “brain paintings” produced by the team’s testing

While the project is obviously catnip for anyone interested in future-tech and the ability to control objects with the mind, it has particularly impactful potential applications for people with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

“Tools like this could help us all, not just those with ADHD, become more disciplined with our concentration,” Andujar said.

Andujar’s previous projects, including mind-controlled drones, have elicited positive feedback from people with ADHD, who have tested them at conventions and found them beneficial in practicing focus.

“Adults with ADHD, or even teenagers, who have tried the technology always come to me and ask where they can buy the technology to practice training their attention over time, instead of just taking drugs,” said Andujar. “So that’s why we started working on how we can make brain-painting a tool, where those with ADHD can train their attention over time while doing something creative.”

By developing the focus necessary to move virtual objects with mind power, Andujar’s tool can potentially help people with ADHD practice honing their concentration.

Thus far, the resulting paintings are fairly limited in their graphic dynamism, and might trigger debate over what constitutes art and what are simply objects moving around in virtual space — but like many other forms of art that are relatively uninspiring, Andujar’s team intends to eventually allow brain painters to monetize their work in the digital art world by developing them as NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

“There’s nothing out there that exists that is a brain-based painting that’s an NFT,” Andujar says. The artistic merits of brain-painting may be up in the air, but the novel tool seems to have the potential for concentration — an ability in ever-shortening supply in the era of the shrinking attention span.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....