Hackaday Prize Entry: Bilateral Brain Stimulator

In 1987, an American psychologist found voluntary eye movements reduced the intensity of negative thoughts. This is the basis of EMDR, or Eye Movement and Reprocessing Desensibilization, and if it sounds too oogie-boogie to be real, I assure you there are even oogier and boogier techniques in psychology that actually work.

[David]’s entry to the Hackaday Prize is a device that helps psychologists apply EMDR for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders. To do this, the psychologist asks the patient to describe a traumatic incident while the patient makes eye movement. According to the literature, this facilitates the connection between the cerebral hemispheres and decreases the emotional burden.

If simply moving your eyes back and forth while reliving your greatest horrors is enough, what’s with the hardware? [David]’s project is just a few LEDs that help enable eye movement. With a linear array of LEDs controlled by a shift register and a PIC microcontroller, this device is just enough to make a patient glance from left to right to left over and over again.

It’s a good project, made even better by the fact that [David]’s sister, a psychotherapist and EMDR practitioner, asked [David] to create an electronic device for this technique. [David]’s already produced a video on his device, and you can check that out below.

28 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Bilateral Brain Stimulator

  1. Actually, it’s just a plot to condition the patients to swivel their eyes about when they’re having negative thoughts, so other people can identify them as crazy and start avoiding them.

  2. Brain storming session.

    If the eye movement is just side to side and only mildly random (some small speed variation, but always full left to right) I could see this system being almost fully automated. Use a device like a TENS on each hand to trigger the physical reaction when the led hits the edge, same for a small sound effect played on stereo headphones. Something like a TENS allows the patient to focus completely on the treatment instead of remembering to always tap their finger or hand (or snap a rubber band or whatever) in time with the eye movement. And with TENS isolated charges on each hand, you don’t have the risk of current going across the chest.

    So if the designer of this happens by: what are the options of a patient using this on their own after introduction and treatment by a professional? Is it like biofeedback and TENS where the behavior is encouraged to continue post treatment, or is that a huge contraidication? I’m a bit fan of self applied CBT (trying to convince someone I know that a rubber band bracelet really will help with self-harm thoughts) and this seems like a tool they and others could use it their therapists taught them to use it. And soldering a counter to a shift register to leds, and maybe an audio chip or TENS-like device could be a very cheap and life changing tool.

    1. Real. Learned about it in passing while listening to an NPR interview with a guy who suffered severe PTSD from childhood trauma. The story wasn’t directly about EMDR, but he mentioned that it was the first effective treatment that he had.

      I looked it up, afterward. Pretty fascinating stuff. Obviously, it’s not a miracle cure-all, though for some individuals it’s highly effective. For the guy in the interview, it was figuratively, and quite possibly literally, a life-saver.

      1. That criticism “only as effective” is like saying it doesn’t matter if you drive across town in a Lexus, or belly crawl through 5 miles of broken glass, you just end up in the same place. If it’s quicker and very easily employed, by therapist or by self, it’s better. If it “just uses the same old stuff that was known before” but in a quicker and easier to employ package, it’s better.

    2. “some crackpot psychologist”

      Is there any other type?

      Any form of physical treatment should be approved and performed by a person with a medical degree, and current registration.

      1. A medical degree does give ensure effective or safe treatment. It merely gives you someone with insurance that you can sue when things go wrong.

        I’m not slamming doctors so much as I am their training. Basically they receive no training in problem solving only pattern matching.

      1. Yeah, if I was a millionaire sadist, I’d pay for free chiropractor exams for pedants and other non-clinical OCDers, just to watch them try to live with the fact that one leg is 3mm longer than the other or something.

    1. If it were me I’d be going for a couple of dip decade counters and maybe a 555 for adjusting things. I shake too much for anything smaller. Fold them out flat and solder them deadbug then sand them off a little if space is really an issue. Still interested way to reprogram the mind. Incredible to think such simple everyday things can alter the mindset so profoundly. I wonder if anyone has found a way to do this the other way around.

      1. Which other way round?

        I have a suspicion that the stage hypnotist classic swinging locket or whatever provokes the same stack overflow or whatever permitting random code execution.

  3. I’ve been using the technique since I heard about it a few years back, as a technique used in cognitive behavioural therapy. The way I heard it described was that it forces the brain to refile or re-categorize stressful memories. So that part of it is like a cool brain hack. Anyway, seems to work, find yourself remember some time you were terribly embarrassed or did something wrong, or a for real traumatic event, and get stressed about it all over again, watch imaginary tennis, just look side to side, to side, to side a few times and it never bothers you like that again…. then it’s not gone, but goes out of the pool of “all the stressful events that brain pulls up when it’s a bit stressed and wants to cycle like an asshole.”, so if some other connection/similarity brings it back to mind in the future, you review it more whimsically, like “heh, that, what a tool I was…” or “phew, glad I made it out of that okay.” rather than “OMG OMG OMG….”

    Even if you don’t think you’re a headcase, it’s a great tool to remember for keeping the brain well weeded and pruned.

    1. Does this mean tennis fans, particularly those that get center court seats, are generally happier? Should PTSD suffers be sent to tennis matches? How about basketball or hockey which go quickly from end to end too?

      1. That would be very hard to separate from other known psychological phenomena from that type of event, like if your team is doing well you have an elevated mood, not so well, borderline depressed, plus effects of group singing of team song, belonging to a tribe sort of thing that are all meant to have positive effects.

        However, it might be a reason to want to avoid reading on narrow screens, if reading is your go-to for relaxation, best turn the old kobo to landscape and give the eyes a bit of a workout.

  4. Jesus… I’ve never even heard of these studies, have no training in psychology, and I could’a come up with that conclusion. And, I’m willing to bet that anyone who’s even remotely self-evaluating and reaches an age of about 30-years-old, and likely younger, is equally-capable of coming to these same conclusions.
    Now, the question becomes… If it just takes a person to think about their own experience to realize what’s happening, and it just takes a tiny bit more brainpower to say “hey wait a minute, this ain’t right” and “I’mma do my best not to allow it to continue…” then………
    Then we have a scenario wherein *the vast majority of humanity* can solve their own problems, with time and practice, with*out* an external influence. And shouldn’t *that* be what we’re aiming for?
    Let’s look at this like the “Family Guy” episode, played tonight, about kids who can’t sit still, and our society’s not only *willingness*, but downright *obsession* with curing this otherwise expected behavior, through whatever means available to them. Means that were once developed for *extreme* circumstances, now used every day on kids who are really nothing more than kids… ADHD-medications, etc.
    So, now, we’ve got a shifty-eyed kiddo who’s reliving trauma from a scary movie… and… what… now…? We’ve got a technology to “whip them into shape” much like our overmedications for other “issues”… which are often only “issues” at all, in the most-extreme circumstances most people are extremely unlikely to encounter.
    …The question becomes… Are we, as a society, capable of recognizing “symptoms” like these, as what they are… To recognize that the vast-majority of folks with these symptoms are nothing more than regular-ol-folks in desperate need for “self-finding”… To allow them the time to do-so in the way *they would naturally progress*… or are we a society in which the instant we recognize any sign of any potential “abnormality”, we treat it…? And that’s the problem.
    A system like this seems *excellent* for those in the most-extreme circumstances… if they know they’re taking part in it. But our society has shown time-and-time-again that it’s not capable of having knowledge of these things without overdoing it, without looking at the tiniest “symptoms”–which were once considered normal–as though it’s a worst-case-scenario when really it’s nothing more than regular “growing-pains” (or maybe slightly delayed) that will work themselves out, in time.
    How many more examples do I have to give…?
    How much *more* worried are we going to be, with release of information/studies like these, that folks are on their way to becoming serial-killers when they’re nothing more than regular-ol’ folk…? When will we, as a society, learn that for every cliche, there’s an equal-and-opposite… and in this case we’re referring to: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”… An “ounce of prevention” in the case of ADHD-meds being equivalent to *millions* of people medicated who *really needn’t be*, and really only helping out a handful of folk who *actually needed it*. “A million ounces of prevention is worth a pound of cure” doesn’t sound so great, right? And, worse, now we’ve got a whole generation of kids who can’t solve their own regular-ol’ problems on their own without help of some drug, or technology.
    So, thank god those cures/preventions (nevermind recognition of the symptoms) exist for those extreme cases… but Please, For God’s Sake, do not allow them to be over/mis-used/diagnosed to the point that people are no longer able to recognize/solve their own problems within their own means. PLEASE.

    Aren’t these the sorts of things we should be learning from our *parents,* families, and communities, rather than from goddamned study performed by idiots in the 1980’s who couldn’t understand a basic human-concept that most-likely has been well-understood, just maybe-not documented, for centuries prior? Here’s an idea… Grandpa knows kiddo well enough to see that whenever he talks about ghosts, kiddo starts getting all shifty-eyed… Grandpa eventually realizes “whoa, that freaks kiddo out”… let’s bring ‘im back to reality… “hey, kiddo, yahknow, I once thought I had a ghost in my home… Whatsay we get some ice-cream? And I’ll tell yah all about it.”.

    Or, yahknow, we could all add new screens and electrodes and drugs to our lives to replace that level of understanding/interaction.

    1. TL;DR summary: duh thinks that PTSD is something regular talk therapy, self-guided no less, is useful for.

      Here’s a clue: normal talk therapy of most varieties is known to make PTSD worse. Most patients need some form of cognitive behavior therapy added to it just to be able to talk about the trauma. Reason? PTSD is a brain malfunction where any memory of the event triggers the brain to relive the event. Not as a memory, not as if it were a movie, but the person sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels the whole trauma over again. Think a rape victim is going to get better by reliving the event over and over? It isn’t a matter of the person believing and knowing it isn’t happening again; that’s why it’s such a difficult thing to treat and why most people don’t seem treatment for it.

      This device is based on research that has shown that eye movement and other bilateral stimulation gets the brain to stop reliving the event. That allows normal talk therapy to start to work.

      Your point about over-medicating kids? It happens, blame parents who get their family doctor to scribble a medication for little Tommy instead of a child psychiatrist trained to know the difference between normal hyper, sugar hyper, and ADHD. The rest of your rambling, though, sounds like Scientology talking about how “evil and wrong psychiatry it, and we just need to get rid of the theatans.”

  5. I only have vision in 1 eye. Would this work for me or someone who was completely blind? I think it would which would imply it has nothing to do with vision and everything to do with how thoughts are controllable by concentrating on other tasks.

    1. One eye, maybe. Seems to be it is about getting the higher functioning parts of the brain firing while the malfunctioning fear and memory systems are busy reliving the trauma in real time.

      Eye movement, following something visible, breaks the hold PTSD has on the vision center of the brain. Watch someone to through an episode, their eyes do exactly what they did when the traumatic event occured. So following a doctor’s hands or less breaks that, which helps the individual go through the episode without the normal reinforcement that characterizes PTSD.

      The same should hold true for the other senses, probably why alternating touch and sound from side to side also helps. I suspect that adding scent in short, controlled bursts (smell-o-vision or aroma-scope) could also be used; those may be of more use for people who are completely blind.

      But those are a non-professional’s opinions. I’m just applying some basic biofeedback tricks (scent, sound, touch) to what the pros have found works for the eyes. Having other scents (and taste, so think strong whisky or bacon) is the only way I could discuss my primal fear reaction to rubber cement; too many bad hospital stays where the odor of a rubber face mask being filled with halothane is the major memory. Even typing this makes me think I smell that stuffb but any other aroma is enough to break that sense memory (after many years of practice).

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