It looks like Spock and Darth Vader may have some competition in the mind control stakes.

Researchers in the U.S. claim to have discovered the secret to mind control by creating the world’s first ever human-to-human brain interface.

Using electrical brain recordings and a form of magnetic stimulation, Rajesh Rao sent a brain signal to Andrea Stocco on the other side of the Washington University campus, causing Stocco’s finger to move on a keyboard.

brain to brain interface

University of Washington researcher Rajesh Rao, left, plays a computer game with his mind. Across campus, researcher Andrea Stocco, right, wears a magnetic stimulation coil over the left motor cortex region of his brain. Stocco’s right index finger moved involuntarily to hit the fire button

The feat builds on research in which electrical signals generated from one brain are translated by a computer into commands that can move a mechanical arm or a computer cursor

Researchers at Duke University had also previously demonstrated brain-to-brain communication between two rats, and Harvard researchers have demonstrated it between a human and a rat. The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains,’ said Professor Stocco.

‘We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain.’


Brain signals from the ‘Sender’ are recorded. When the computer detects imagined hand movements, a fire command is transmitted over the Internet to the TMS machine, which causes an upward movement of the right hand of the ‘Receiver.’ This usually results in the fire key being hit

Thebreakthrough brings to mind all kinds of science fiction scenarios. Professor Stocco jokingly referred to it as a ‘Vulcan mind meld.’

But Professor Rao cautioned this technology only reads certain kinds of simple brain signals, not a person’s thoughts.  He addedit doesn’t give anyone the ability to control your actions against your will.


Professor Stocco jokingly referred to the experiment as a ‘Vulcan mind meld’

To perform the experiment, Professor Rao sat in his lab wearing a cap with electrodes hooked up to an electroencephalography machine, which reads electrical activity in the brain.

Professor Stocco was in his lab across campus wearing a purple swim cap marked with the stimulation site for the transcranial magnetic stimulation coil that was placed directly over his left motor cortex, which controls hand movement.

The team had a Skype connection set up so the two labs could coordinate, though neither Professor Rao nor Professor Stocco could see the Skype screens.

Professor Rao looked at a computer screen and played a simple video game with his mind.

When he was supposed to fire a cannon at a target, he imagined moving his right hand while being careful not to move his hand. This caused causing a cursor to hit the ‘fire’ button.

Almost instantaneously, Professor Stocco, who wore noise-cancelling earbuds and wasn’t looking at a computer screen, involuntarily moved his right index finger to push the space bar on the keyboard in front of him, as if firing the cannon.

Professor Stocco compared the feeling of his hand moving involuntarily to that of a nervous tic.

Man with Electrode Wires

Electroencephalography, or EEG, is routinely used by clinicians and researchers to record brain activity noninvasively from the scalp



The technologies used by the researchers for recording and stimulating the brain are both well-known.

Electroencephalography, or EEG, is routinely used by clinicians and researchers to record brain activity noninvasively from the scalp.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a noninvasive way of delivering stimulation to the brain to elicit a response.

Its effect depends on where the coil is placed; in this case, it was placed directly over the brain region that controls a person’s right hand.

By activating these neurons, the stimulation convinced the brain that it needed to move the right hand.

‘It was both exciting and eerie to watch an imagined action from my brain get translated into actual action by another brain,’ Professor Rao said.

‘This was basically a one-way flow of information from my brain to his. The next step is having a more equitable two-way conversation directly between the two brains.’

‘Brain-computer interface is something people have been talking about for a long, long time,’ said Chantel Prat, assistant professor in psychology at the UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

‘We plugged a brain into the most complex computer anyone has ever studied, and that is another brain.’

‘I think some people will be unnerved by this because they will overestimate the technology,’ Professor Prat added.

Much of the research on brain-to-brain interfaces  has been aimed at helping paralysed patients regain some power of movement, but bioethicists have raised concerns about more controversial uses.

In February, for instance, scientists led by Duke University Medical Center’s Miguel Nicolelis used electronic sensors to capture the thoughts of a rat in a lab in Brazil and sent via Internet to the brain of a rat in the United States.

The second rat received the thoughts of the first, mimicking its behavior. And electrical activity in the brain of a monkey at Duke, in North Carolina, was recently sent via the Internet, controlling a robot arm in Japan.

That raised dystopian visions of battalions of animal soldiers – or even human ones – whose brains are remotely controlled by others. Some of Duke’s brain-computer research, though not this study, received funding from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA.

Transparent man's brain glowing

In February, scientists led by Duke University Medical Center’s Miguel Nicolelis used electronic sensors to capture the thoughts of a rat in a lab in Brazil and sent via Internet to the brain of a rat in the U.S.

Some experts have suggested the recent feat was not particularly impressive.

‘It’s possible to capture one of the few easy-to-recognize EEG signals and send “a simple shock … into the other investigator’s head,’ said Andrew Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh, who was not part of the research.

The research has not been published in a scientific journal, something university spokeswoman Doree Armstrong admits is ‘a bit unusual.’

But she said the team knew other researchers are working on this same thing and they felt ‘time was of the essence.’

The researchers now plan to conduct an experiment that would transmit more complex information from one brain to the other.