Since the 1970s, scientists have tried to use signals from the brain to help change behaviour. Research on a technique called biofeedback showed that showing test subjects their brain activity — essentially, sending it back to their mind — allowed them to gradually change their own brainwaves and, with them, their thoughts and emotions.
Despite positive results, however, no one has succeeded in making a successful biofeedback consumer device. Ariel Garten, the neuroscience-trained CEO of Toronto wearable mind-altering tech firm InteraXon, is out to change all that with Muse, an electroencephalographic (EEG)-sensing headband that claims to be able to give users serenity now. The sleek gadget is already on sale directly from the company and, starting August 15, off the shelf at Indigo—the company’s first retail partner (CEO Heather Reisman is enthusiastic about the toy, says Garten). Interaxon has sold 5,000 Muse headsets since it launched in May and even counts Ashton Kutcher as a fan.
“Using Muse, you understand that you can have control over the mind, where it focuses its attention,” says Garten. It is ultimately intended to have several applications, but for now its main one is Muse Calm. Worn for three minutes once a day—or whenever users are feeling stressed—and paired with a smartphone or tablet, the headband represents calm, focused brain activity with serene winds and birds chirping. If the mind begins to wander or become unfocused, the sounds of a storm take over. The idea is the user gradually “trains” herself to bring the calm weather back by calming her thoughts.
“It works two ways,” says Garten. “There’s a calming and relaxation that comes from the use of it. So in that three-minute period where you use it, you feel calm. While using it you learn a skill you can subconsciously and consciously apply throughout the rest of your day, and the rest of your life.”
Garten says several companies are experimenting with incorporating the Muse into employee wellness programs to improve productivity and focus. InteraXon has also piqued the interest of the likes of Reebok — the sneaker company that has recently instituted mental fitness as a pillar of its brand. Reebok is engaged in a month-long pilot project of testing the Muse out on one of its consumer groups to see if they report benefits to making it a part of their general fitness routine, says Christopher Palmer, head of wearable electronics in Reebok’s advanced concepts division.
“It’s very exploratory now, but from a broad perspective, any success and support from the brand will lead to a stronger partnership [with InteraXon], and this is the early steps of exploring that path,” he says.