Summary: University of Tübingen researchers have measured the readiness potential and brain activity in people prior to embarking on a 192 meter bungee jump.
Source: University of Tübingen.
Surjo R. Soekadar, psychiatrist and neuroscientist at the University of Tübingen, and his doctoral candidate Marius Nann have for the very first time succeeded in measuring the readiness potential, outside a laboratory and under extreme conditions, namely prior to a 192-meter bungee jump.
The readiness potential is a characteristic electrical voltage shift in the brain that indicates an upcoming willful act, and that appears even before a person becomes aware of his/her own conscious decision to act.
The readiness potential was first described in 1964 by Hans-Helmut Kornhuber and Lüder Deecke, who measured the brain waves of a test person over hundreds of finger movements and under strict laboratory conditions. Despite numerous studies, the readiness potential has never been measured in a real-life situation: Since the voltage shift is in the range of only a few millionths of a volt, only measurements under laboratory conditions were considered possible.
To advance the development of brain-machine interfaces, the researchers from Tübingen wanted to find out whether the readiness potential can be assessed in everyday environments. In addition, they were interested in whether the willpower necessary for initiating an act would influence the characteristics of the brain potential. For the study, two semi-professional cliff divers agreed to have their brain waves recorded before jumping from the second tallest bungee jumping platform in Europe, the 192-meter Europa Bridge near Innsbruck in Austria.
After only a few jumps, the researchers were able to measure the readiness potential beyond any doubt. “Once again, the current experiment shows that the boundaries of the possible are shifting and that neurotechnology might soon be part of our everyday life,” Soekadar says. “The small number of jumps necessary for the experiment shows that the readiness potential prior to a bungee jump is very well expressed”, Nann explains.
Source: University of Tübingen
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
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Original Research: Abstract available in bioRxiv.
To jump or not to jump: The Bereitschaftspotential required to jump into 192-meter abyss
Self-initiated voluntary acts, such as pressing a button, are preceded by a negative electrical brain potential, the Bereitschaftspotential (BP), that can be recorded over the human scalp using electroencephalography (EEG). Up to now, the BP required to initiate voluntary acts has only been recorded under well-controlled laboratory conditions. It is thus not known if this form of brain activity also underlies motor initiation in possible life-threatening decision making, such as jumping into a 192-meter abyss, an act requiring extraordinary willpower. Here, we report BP before self-initiated 192-meter extreme bungee jumping across two semi-professional cliff divers (both male, mean age 19.3 years). We found that the spatiotemporal dynamics of the BP is comparable to that recorded under laboratory conditions. These results, possible through recent advancements in wireless and portable EEG technology, document for the first time pre-movement brain activity preceding possible life-threatening decision making.