Mental imagery for brain-computer interface control and communication in non-responsive individuals

Zulay R. Lugo*, Christoph Pokorny, Fréderic Pellas, Quentin Noirhomme, Steven Laureys, Gernot Müller-Putz, Andrea Kübler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: People who survive severe brain damage may eventually develop a prolonged consciousness disorder. Others can regain full consciousness but remain unable to speak or move because of the severity of the lesions, as for those with locked-in syndrome (LIS). Brain-computer interface techniques can be useful to disentangle these states by detecting neurophysiological correlates of conscious processing of information to enable communication with these individuals after the diagnosis. Objective: The goal of our study was to evaluate with a user-centered design approach the usability of a mental imagery task to detect signs of voluntary information processing and enabling communication in a group of severely disabled individuals. Methods: Five individuals with LIS participated in the study. Participants were instructed to imagine hand, arm or feet movements during electroencephalography (EEG) to detect patterns of event-related synchronization/desynchronization associated with each task. After the user-centered design, usability was evaluated (i.e., efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction). Results: Two participants achieved significant levels of accuracy in 2 different tasks. The associated workload and levels of satisfaction perceived by the users were moderate and were mainly related to the time demand of the task. Conclusion: Results showed lack of effectiveness of the task to detect voluntary brain activity and thus detect consciousness or communicate with non-responsive individuals. The application must be modified to be sufficiently satisfying for the intended end-users and suggestions are made in this regard.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Brain-computer interface
  • Disorders of consciousness
  • Locked-in syndrome
  • User-centered design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Rehabilitation

Fields of Expertise

  • Human- & Biotechnology

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