Advancing Neuroscience with… Cat Ears?

This post is going to be a little different, but I was too intrigued by the topic to ignore it. A lot of what we discuss both in class and on the blog pertains specifically to research, which aims to answer pressing questions regarding learning, memory, neuropathologies and other similar issues with world-improving potential. But with so much pop-psych being thrown out there by the media, I had to wonder how and where neuroscience is being used for profit and for fun (not that research can’t be fun). ANYWAY, somehow, in the remote corners of the neuroscience field, on a website called “neurogadget.com” I stumbled upon the following product http://goo.gl/z0xpp .

Look at this guy! He's so focused.
Look at this guy! He’s so focused.

I’ll just give you folks a second to digest that… Okay, so moving on towards my point (I hope). In case you didn’t read the entirety of the article, it’s essentially a pair of cat ears on a head band, but the headband contains a sensor that measures brain activity levels. With more activity, the ears perk up and with a lack of activity, they droop. If you’re particularly excited, they even wiggle back and forth. Granted, Neurogadget.com focuses on all sorts of incredible brain-computer interface (BCI) technologies that can help disabled individuals. So when I found the Necomimi cat ears, I was interested in the stark contrast they created to the other topics on the site. Admittedly, I spent a shamefully long time imagining what life would be like if people around me wore them, but my interest stemmed more from the fact they are one of the first “neuroproducts” I’ve seen that are created for pleasure and luxury rather than necessity. Apparently, they’re meant to improve the quality of social interactions by expressing your “mood”, making dates and friendships easier by removing the need for verbal communication of emotion. Sounds healthy. But the takeaway message for me is that they’re fun. They won’t cure any diseases or help us to understand much about how the brain works. They are a tangential result of modern neuroscience technology, and they probably aren’t that accurate at communicating mood. Plus, if I go out to dinner with someone, I’d worry the ears might perk up more when I read the menu than during conversation. However, the possibilities for the field of neurotoys and nuerogadgets are pretty awesome, even if they are quite strange. Neurowear, the same company that made the Necomimi ears has also developed a tail accessory meant to convey mood. Recently, too, they’ve developed a pair of headphones that “analyze your brainwaves” and choose music playlists based on what the device picks up. And as technology continues to develop, I have no doubt that people will find a way to use the advances for profit and fun, but what, if any, implications does this have for neuroscience as a whole? Will it lead to more pop-psych and thus, more misunderstandings and public misconceptions, will it exist on a different plane and have no effect on the field, or will some technologies begin to develop strictly for fun rather than necessity? If there is one thing Americans have figured out by now, it’s that money goes where profit can be made, and I wonder if toys, gadgets, and neuonicknacks might receive enough investments to make some technological advancements of their own. Capitalism is, after all, a powerful tool, and I’m willing to bet that we could see some potentially helpful insights coming out of this seemingly trivial area of the field in the not-too-distant future.

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4 thoughts on “Advancing Neuroscience with… Cat Ears?

  1. This is crazy, cool and exceedingly odd all at the same time. Great post Kate! While I personally don’t think I want strangers to know my mood (or look like a cat for that matter), it is incredibly intriguing to think of neurogear as a new field of technology. I can definitely see the field expanding in the future, especially because humans are lazy- why would I want to work hard to find music if my headphones could find the perfect song for me? Why would I want to tell a boy I like him if my ears do all the talking? But that does seem to inspire some issues- if technology starts to speak for us than perhaps it would prevent proper social skills from forming.

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  2. I think the popularization of “neurogadgets” and the introduction of neuroscience into pop culture will result in a continuing common interest in this discipline. It may produce minor misconceptions (eg. “the ears know exactly what I’m thinking!”); however, a dissemination of the basic principles of neuroscience in a “fun” context will cultivate a broader interest in the field and hopefully inspire more people to study what exactly makes these fun gadgets work. It is definitely worthwhile to experiment with these gadgets, despite the fact that they do not “cure any diseases or help us understand much about how the brain works.” Worthwhile applications of a certain scientific field inspire people to try to know more about the way technological and natural systems work, and these brain-reading ears would definitely do that.

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