How to measure your own brain waves

Written by collene lawhorn-sanchez
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How to measure your own brain waves
Scalp electrodes can be used to measure brain wave activity. (Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The brain is made up of cells called neurons. One way that neurons communicate is through electrical activity. Electrical brain activity is visualised as an electroencephalogram (EEG). EEGs can appear on a monitor as patterns of waves. Scientists often associate different types of brain wave patterns with certain healthy functions, and in some cases the brain wave pattern can also be used to characterise certain disorders.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Find a university that recruits subjects to participate in neuroscience research. There may be a department in your local university or medical centre that could benefit from your voluntary participation to have EEG activity recorded. Offer your time as a participant, and schedule an appointment that is mutually beneficial for you and the researcher.

  2. 2

    Refrain from drinking or using substances that might alter your brain activity. Depending on what the research investigator is measuring, some substances might interfere with normal electrical activity and could disrupt data acquisition, results and analysis.

  3. 3

    Allow the researcher to set you up for the experiment. Normally she will place an electrode cap on your head and use a gel substance to make sure that the electrodes are making contact with your scalp and possibly your nose or cheeks. The cap is usually connected to an amplifier that is connected to a monitor. The researcher will then monitor your brain waves in real time as you either sit passively or engage in an activity. You are usually sitting comfortably in a separate room from the investigator.

  4. 4

    Listen carefully to the instructions given to you by the experimenter. Ask questions and ask for clarification if something about your role in the study is unclear. You may be asked to sit still, so make sure to take your time to find a comfortable position.

  5. 5

    Ask about your results. When the study is complete, ask to sit down with the researcher and go over your wave patterns. He will be able to show you different waves of activity, sometimes characterised as alpha, beta, delta or theta rhythms. In some studies, researchers will be able to measure and discuss with you a specific pattern of wave activity from clusters of your neurons that correspond to a task you were asked to complete during the experiment, such as pressing a button after a given cue.

Tips and warnings

  • Try not to fall asleep, unless the task involves a sleep study, and alert the investigator if you are uncomfortable, need a break or want to stop the study for any reason. You should be given a method of how to contact the experimenter in the next room, such as pressing a remote or raising your hand if you are under video surveillance.
  • This activity should only be conducted as a participant in a university or medical-facility research study. The research protocol should be approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB), and you should be informed by the researcher of all the risks and benefits associated with your participation in the project.

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