Abstract

Aims: The paper reports results obtained from a set of experiments aiming to demonstrate the potentiality of the use of EEG signal detection through BCI devices in improving the analysis and the interpretation of colors - driven cognitive processes. The approach combines Information Technology methods and signal analysis with cognitive science investigation methods, considering the rising interest in these two discipli nes in learning sciences. Study Design: The presented experiment has been designed with the aim to compare the results of the traditional (qualitative and quantitative) cognitive analysis approach with the EEG signal analysis of the evoked potentials coll ected from participants. Methodology: A sample of 38 students has been involved in a learning process during which they received visual stimuli based on colour variation. The stimuli concerned both the background of the text to learn and the colour of the characters. The colours represent the sensorial stimulus, while the cognitive task consists in remembering the words appearing on the screen, with different combination of foreground (words) and background colors.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________
*Corresponding author: E-mail: raffaella.folgieri@unimi.it;
British Journal of Applied Science & Technology
9(1): 1-11, 2015, Article no.BJAST.2015.241
ISSN: 2231-0843
SCIENCEDOMAIN international
www.sciencedomain.org
A Blue Mind: A Brain Computer Interface Study on
the Cognitive Effects of Text Colors
Raffaella Folgieri
1*
, Claudio Lucchiari
2
and Beatrice Cameli
2
1
Department of Economics (DEMM), Università degli Studi di Milano,
Italy.
2
Health Sciences Department, Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy.
Authors’ contributions
This work was carried out in collaboration between all authors. Authors RF and CL designed the
study, wrote the protocol and managed literature searches. Author RF performed the statistical and
the EEG analysis, and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. Author CL performed the behavioural
analysis and discussed the related results. Author BC managed the analyses of the study and
literature searches. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Article Information
DOI: 10.9734/BJAST/2015/17821
Editor(s):
(1) Arcady A. Putilov, Research Institute for Molecular Biology and Biophysics, Russian Academy of Sciences,
Novosibirsk, Russia.
Reviewers:
(1)
A. Papazafiropoulou, Department of Internal Medicine and Diabetes Center, Tzaneio General Hospital of Piraeus, Athens,
Greece.
(2)
Friday Okwaraji, Psychological Medicine, University of Nigeria, Nigeria.
Complete Peer review History:
http://www.sciencedomain.org/review-history.php?iid=1136&id=5&aid=9156
Received 27
th
March 2015
Accepted 15
th
April 2015
Published 8
th
May 2015
ABSTRACT
Aims:
The paper reports results obtained from a set of experiments aiming to demonstrate the
potentiality of the use of EEG signal detection through BCI devices in improving the analysis and
the interpretation of colors-driven cognitive processes. The approach combines Information
Technology methods and signal analysis with cognitive science investigation methods, considering
the rising interest in these two disciplines in learning sciences.
Study Design: The presented experiment has been designed with the aim to compare the results
of the traditional (qualitative and quantitative) cognitive analysis approach with the EEG signal
analysis of the evoked potentials collected from participants.
Methodology: A sample of 38 students has been involved in a learning process during which they
received visual stimuli based on colour variation. The stimuli concerned both the background of the
text to learn and the colour of the characters. The colours represent the sensorial stimulus, while
the cognitive task consists in remembering the words appearing on the screen, with different
combination of foreground (words) and background colors.
Original Research
Article
Folgieri et al.; BJAST, 9(1): 1-11, 2015; Article no.BJAST.2015.241
2
Results and Conclusions:
The obtained results show interesting learning effects of primary
(RGB) or complementary (CMY) colours as well as EEG correlates.
Keywords: Learning; memory; EEG; brain computer interface; BCI; colour processing; cognitive
science.
1. INTRODUCTION
The reliability of commercial non-invasive BCI
(Brain Computer Interface) devices and the low
cost of these EEG-based systems, compared to
other brain image techniques, such as fMRI or
high-density EEG, determined the increasing
interest in their application in different Research
fields, also thanks to the portability of the
equipment.
This last feature makes BCI devices particularly
suited for experiments involving virtual and real
(Friedman et al. [1]) situations and a larger
number of subjects, especially when evaluating
emotional or cognitive response of individuals. In
fact, during EEG measures, anxiety induced by
invasive devices could influence the emotive
response of individuals. At the opposite, BCI
devices, being projected also for entertainment
applications, are paritcolarly confortable and
allow the collection of data in a more ecological
fashion.
Commercial BCI (Allison et al. [2]) devices
consists in a simplification of the medical EEG
equipment, communicating EEG response to
stimuli by wi-fi connection, allowing to people to
feel relaxed, to reduce anxiety and to move freely
in the experiment environment, acting as in
absence of the BCI devices.
Among the different BCIs proposed by
commercial Companies, two small-sized,
inexpensive devices are currently largely in use
in the scientific and in the entertainment
communities: the Emotiv Epoc and the Neurosky
MindWave. Despite of the lower number of
signals detected by the Neurosky BCI (it does
not register facial expressions as Emotiv does), it
appears particularly suitable for ecological
experiments, both for the lower-cost and for the
easiness-to-wear.
Most of BCI-based interfaces adopt a two-class
approach as a modality for movement control,
realizing a so-called limited explicit interaction.
Other applications use signals registered by BCIs
to modify the environment, realizing, in this case,
the implicit approach. This latter is an interaction
process not based on direct, explicit and
voluntary user’s action but on the users’ state in
a particular context. In games, some examples
are given by the games “Bacteria Hunt” (Mühl et
al. [3]), in which alpha brain rhythms levels are
related to the controllability of the player’s avatar,
or “Alpha WoW” (Plass-Oude Bos et al. [4]),
based on the game “World of War craft”, in which
the user’s avatar can transform into an animal
following the alpha brain rhythm activity.
Commercial BCI (Allison et al. [2]) devices
consists in a simplification of the medical EEG
equipment, communicating an EEG response to
stimuli by WI-fi connection, allowing people to
feel relaxed, to reduce anxiety and to move freely
in the experimental environment or in the game,
acting as in the absence of the BCI devices.
The Neurosky Mindwave particularly represents
a challenge, due to the apparently lower
potentiality compared to the Emotiv Epoc. In fact,
while the Emotiv BCI device reads brainwaves
data from fourteen sensors, the Mindwave
provides just one sensor, positioned on the
frontal area of the scalp. However, the Mindwave
BCI is inexpensive and results more comfortable
for users, both for the easiness of positioning the
device on the scalp, and because it uses a dry
sensor, while Emotiv implements wet ones.
Conducting data recording by the use of this
simple device will permit the direct transfer of
results into future BCI-based easy-to use
applications, e.g. in education contexts (Folgieri
and Zichella [5]).
In the present study, we aimed to study, by
behavioral and BCI-based data, the effects of
text colors on memory.
Generally speaking, the colour of light plays an
important role in mental functioning. Colours are
often associated with one or more emotions; they
may also convey specific meanings or
information. From childhood we all have
repeated experiences of colors in different
situations and this gives rise to strong colour-
related affective, cognitive and behavioral effects
(Baldwin and Meunier [6]). These effects are
unconscious and have an automatic
consequence on our brain functioning (Bramao
Folgieri et al.; BJAST, 9(1): 1-11, 2015; Article no.BJAST.2015.241
3
et al. [7]) although meanings may be activated by
multiple and may depend on different contexts
(e.g. at school red often signals an error, and
then evokes an uneasy feeling that we want to
avoid; at the opposite, in a romantic context red
may symbolizes passion and hence it might act
as a positive cue), Nakamura et al. [8] also
highlighted that the meaning of a colour also
depends on a given culture, that is to a sort
culture-dependent emotion/colour dictionary
established by combining the colors to objects
and physical spaces (Naz and Epps [9]).
These properties seem to act even in children.
For instance the study by Hamid and Newport
[10] disclosed the power of colors to enhance the
creative skills in 6 children (4/5 years) placed in
rooms on several different colour conditions: pink
in the room aroused physical strength and good
mood, while the opposite was found in a room
colored blue. These data therefore seem to
support the different activating function of colour.
In particular, recent research a number of studies
have stressed the role of the blue spectrum, i.e.
light wavelengths around 450 nm, in modulating
cognitive processes.
For instance, Knez [11] analyzed the influence of
the light colour on self-reported mood, cognitive
performance and the appreciation of lighting. To
achieve this aim, the author compared warm
(yellow spectrum) and cold (bluish spectrum)
white lights. Warm white light were found to
facilitated problem solving, while the cold lighting
condition (bluish spectra) was found to enhance
attention and short-term memory.
More recent evidence substantially confirmed
these data, in particular with respect to the role of
blue light in facilitating attention-related tasks.
For instance, Cajochen et al. [12], studying the
effect of the blue spectrum light produced by a
LED monitor, found that subjects exposed to this
direct light were significantly influenced both at
the physiological and cognitive level. In
particular, the circadian cycle was altered since
an evening exposition to the LED light was able
to stop melatonin production, thus shifting the
day/night cycle, and increasing the attention level
as well as memory performances.
Similarly Chellappa et al. [13] specifically
analyzed the role of light temperature on
attention. The temperature is a parameter of the
white light indicating the blend of wavelengths
present in the visible light. In particular, a warm
light (under 3000 K) is rich in green and yellow
components, while a cold light (higher than 6000
K) is rich of blue components. The cold light is a
white intense light similar to the one of the dawn,
and may be easily reproduced by a fluorescent
lamp, while a warm light is characteristic of late
afternoon and is generally produced by an
incandescent lamp. Chellappa et al. [13] found
that cold light is able to decrease the salivary
level of melatonin, increasing instead the arousal
level as well as the sustained attention as
measured by a go-no-go task.
Finally, Vanderwalle et al. [14], in a review of
recent studies about the relationship between the
light quality and brain functioning, reported the
impact of blue light components in different
cerebral areas deputed to regulate attention,
memory and the whole cognitive system. In
particular, thalamus, limbic structures and the
neo-cortex are all affected by the quality and the
quantity of environmental light, showing that light
has the power to influence attention, emotion,
cognition and behavior due to a complex of
interrelated functional circuits.
In a previous study (Lucchiari et al. [15]) we have
tested the possibility to enhance the cognitive
fitness modulating the quality of light (colour and
temperature of white light). In fact, even a brief
exposure to a blue light may increase arousal
that in turn may promote the cognitive
performance in certain tasks. However, further
than cognitive performances it is possible to
assume that exposure to a light source with a
strong blue component allows a subject to find
cognitive comfort, that is, to create the
preconditions of a mental setting suitable for a
task that requires attention and concentration.
Hence, we propose that a blue stimulation pre-
activates central nervous system in such a way
to limit the cognitive stress by the pre-allocation
of the required resources for a future task, thus
promoting a cognitive fitness.
In the study that we present in this paper, we
wanted to investigate whether the colour blue
can have a direct effect on cognitive performance
during a learning task. However, in this case we
didn’t modulate the environmental illumination,
but we directly manipulated the colors used in
the task (stimuli and background) since, we
suppose that the computer display represents a
light source sufficiently strong to influence the
cognitive functioning, promoting attention and
memory or, at the opposite, decreasing cognitive
activities.
Folgieri et al.; BJAST, 9(1): 1-11, 2015; Article no.BJAST.2015.241
4
2. MATERIALS AND METHODS
2.1 Method
The primary aim of the study consists in
investigating the impact of blue with respect to
other colours on a cognitive performance. In
order to pursue this aim, we analysed the cortical
correlates of the colour modulation by the use of
a Brain Computer Interface (BCI) device. Indeed,
this instrument allows to record the EEG signal in
the comfortable wireless way so as to improve
the interpretation of cognitive processes through
the combined approach of cognitive science and
Information Technology (and specifically Artificial
Intelligence) methods.
2.2 Subjects
Thirty-eight volunteers (19 males and 19
females) attending undergraduate courses at the
University of Milan, participated in the study.
Participants ages were between 21 and 36. All
had normal or corrected-to-normal vision. All
volunteers agreed to participate, but in some
cases (N=3, 2 females and 1 male) the data was
discarded since the BCI did not produce readings
for these participants. Cases with missing data
were not considered in the analysis, so the total
record number corresponds to 35 participants.
2.3 Instruments
A Neurosky Mindwave BCI device was used to
collect the EEG signals.
BCI devices collect several cerebral frequency
rhythms: the Alpha band (7 Hz 14 Hz), related
to relaxed awareness, meditation, contemplation;
the Beta band (14 Hz 30 Hz), associated with
active thinking, active attention, solving practical
problems; the Delta band (3 Hz – 7 Hz), frontal in
adults, posterior in children with high amplitude
waves, detected during some continuous
attention tasks (Aston Jones and Cohen [16]);
the Theta band (4 Hz 7 Hz), usually related to
emotional stress, such as frustration and
disappointment; the Gamma band (30 Hz 80
Hz), generally related to cognitive processing of
multi-sensorial stimuli (Basar [17]; Basar et al.
[18]). The BCI device communicates the EEG
response to stimuli by WI-fi or Bluetooth
connection, allowing people to move freely in the
experimental environment, thus reducing anxiety.
The limitation of a single electrode provided by
the NeuroskyMindwave implies that the possible
analysis of the brain activity relates to very
general phenomena, and cannot be used easily
to identify ERPs or to associate a specific brain
activity with a specific brain area. This method,
hence, reduces the accuracy of the
neurophysiological interpretation of results, but it
was suitable for our research purposes. Indeed,
we could measure the average of the activity of
the whole brain, with a stronger contribution of
the frontal lobes. In our case this fact does not
represent a disadvantage, since we are
interested in analysing higher cognitive brain
activity, mainly recordable in frontal regions,
rather than elementary stimulus related activity.
The use of the Mindwave presents also another
advantage: the wireless communication between
the BCI device and the computer during the data
recording is particularly appreciable since it
provides to individuals a comfortable experience,
thus enhancing the ecological validity of the
experiment.
The oscillatory induces cortical activity were
studied in relation to each experimental
condition.
2.4 Procedure
To test the impact of blue on cognitive
performance, we set up four experimental
conditions, in order to represent different
combinations of colours, thus contrasting the
effect of blue with other possible contrasts. We
have combined primary (red, green, blue - RGB)
and complementary (cyan, magenta, yellow -
CMY) colours. In the first condition, we delivered
to participants a sequence of black words on
primary colour (RGB) backgrounds and black
words on complementary colour (CYM)
backgrounds. Participants in the second
condition have been asked to look at a sequence
of primary colour words and complementary
colour words on a white background. In the third
experimental session we put primary colour
words on primary colour backgrounds and
complementary colour words on complementary
colour backgrounds. In a last condition, we
submitted participants a sequence of primary
colour words on complementary colour
backgrounds and complementary colour words
on primary colour backgrounds. We delivered all
the possible RGB-CMY combinations. Each
stimulus was repeated 5 times. At the end of the
experimental session, subjects were involved in
a simple distracting task (fulfilling a questionnaire
with personal data, habits, preferences and the
like) requiring about two minutes to be
completed. Anyway, a standard time was set up
Folgieri et al.; BJAST, 9(1): 1-11, 2015; Article no.BJAST.2015.241
5
for each participant, so that the subsequent
memory test started exactly 5 minutes after the
end of the stimulation phase.
Participants’ memory has been tested through a
recall test during which subjects were asked to
write the words they remembered (in descending
order). To be sure that participants’ attention and
cognitive tasks could be colour-related, words
have been chosen among Italian unusual
obsolete words.
Before performing the experiment, participants
were trained and familiarized with the cognitive
task. At the end of the experiment, individuals
were asked to answer a post-test consisting of a
cognitive questionnaire to assess their attention
levels and the impact of colours.
Participants were seated in a comfortable
position, at a distance of fifty centimetres from a
computer screen, wearing the Mindwave device.
They were asked to avoid talking or moving
during the observation of the test words, in order
to avoid the influence of Electromyography
(EMG) signals in the collected data. The only
task assigned to users consisted in stay
concentrated reading the words.
To manage the connection with the device, and
to synchronize the recording of EEG data with
the computer task, we used the OpenVibe
software, an open source platform for designing
and performing BCI and neuroscience
experiments.
For the data analysis, we used different software
tools, based on EEGLAB and ad hoc
implemented MATLAB
TM
code.
3. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
3.1 Statistical analysis
Though the main objective of the study consists
in investigating the impact of blue text on
cognitive performances, we also aimed to verify
how EEG detection through BCI device can
improve the analysis and the interpretation of
cognitive processes through the combined
approach of cognitive science and information
technology methods. The analysis of the
collected data was divided into three stages: (1)
the behavioural data analysis, based on the
findings deriving from the questionnaire
submitted to participants; (2) the EEG signal
analysis of the evoked potentials, performed on
the data collected from individuals participating in
the experiments; (3) the comparison of the
results from the two approaches to match (or not)
the respective findings.
We want to recall that Evoked Potentials (EP) or
Evoked Fields (EF) indicate the variations in
EEG or MEG signals associated with a sensorial
stimulus. More generally, Event-Related
Potential (ERP) or Event Related Field (ERF)
stand for the variations induced by an event (a
sensorial stimulus, a motor act or an endogenous
event). ERP/Fs are the result of an adjustment of
the phase of the cerebral rhythms related to the
event ad of an increment of the power of the
signal. For this reason, in the EEG signal
analysis, we also calculated a synchronization
index (Varela et al. [19]). Considering a single
electrode side, the phase coherence time can be
easily revealed by inspecting the analytic phase.
In fact irregularity in analytic phase plots reveal
the so-called phase slips, occurring when the
phase is “reset”. Phase coherence time lapse
can last 100ms up to a few seconds, and then
new phase locked oscillations arise. Around a
stimulus onset, the phase coherence interval is
shorter. This phenomenon can be observed by
computing the analytic phase of single filtered
bands. To perform the phase analysis we applied
the Hilbert transform of the EEG signal collected
by the single electrode. In this work we are
interested in calculating the synchronization
index between each band couple.
Given phase’s ϕ
1
(t) and ϕ
2
(t) of two signal’s
frequency bands, we get the phase difference
ϕ
2
(t)- ϕ
1
(t) = ϕ
1, 2
(t) and a synchronization index,
as in the following formula:
(1)
where brackets <> denote the average of the
computed cos and sine values. The index g
12
range is [0,1], where 1 represents the perfect
phase synchronization and 0 stays for the
absence of phase synchronization. The presence
of phase synchronization in cortical activity
reveals neurons firing in-phase, corresponding to
the neurons co-operation for perceptual or
cognitive tasks (Varela et al. [19]). In our
experimental setup we collected one signal from
a specific topographic position so we could
explore phase synchronization index between
different wave bands, revealing the kind of
functional activity of the brain.
g
12
2
= cos(
f
1,2
(t)
2
+ sin(
f
1,2
(t)
2
The observed data and the following analysis
indicated some variation depending on the
choice of the colours (primary or
complementary).
3.2 Results
On the collected data, we performed both the
analysis of the EEG signals and a cognitive
based analysis. The cognitive-
based analysis
consisted in a frequency analysis of the results
obtained from the memory test used at the end of
each session to verify subjects’ learning. In this
way we aimed to detect the effect of blue colour
on cognitive tasks.
3.3 Behavioural Data Analysis
In the first condition, participants observed a
sequence of six obsolete or nonexistent words
written in black on primary and complementary
colour backgrounds. The statistical analysis
performed on the results of the
showed that participants remembered more the
word put on a yellow background (26 individual
on a total of 35), followed by that written on a
cyan background (10 of 35; see Fig
written on a green background have been the
most difficul
t to remember (only 3 participants in
35).
Fig. 1. Number of words successfully
remembered with respect to background
colour
In the second experimental session, the
sequence of obsolete or meaningless words
submitted to participants has been written in
primary and complementary colours on white
backgrounds. As shown in Fig. 2, the word most
remembered has been the one written in
participants in 35), followed by the green one (24
of 35). The worst result has been registered for
the word written in red (7 of 35).
Folgieri et al.; BJAST, 9(1): 1-11, 2015
; Article no.
6
The observed data and the following analysis
indicated some variation depending on the
choice of the colours (primary or
On the collected data, we performed both the
analysis of the EEG signals and a cognitive
-
based analysis
consisted in a frequency analysis of the results
obtained from the memory test used at the end of
each session to verify subjects’ learning. In this
way we aimed to detect the effect of blue colour
In the first condition, participants observed a
sequence of six obsolete or nonexistent words
written in black on primary and complementary
colour backgrounds. The statistical analysis
performed on the results of the
memory test
showed that participants remembered more the
word put on a yellow background (26 individual
on a total of 35), followed by that written on a
cyan background (10 of 35; see Fig
. 1). Words
written on a green background have been the
t to remember (only 3 participants in
Fig. 1. Number of words successfully
remembered with respect to background
In the second experimental session, the
sequence of obsolete or meaningless words
submitted to participants has been written in
primary and complementary colours on white
backgrounds. As shown in Fig. 2, the word most
remembered has been the one written in
blue (26
participants in 35), followed by the green one (24
of 35). The worst result has been registered for
During the third session the stimulus used was
composed of a word written in a primary colour
on a primary col
our background. The most
successful combinations were two: red/blue and
blue/red (in both cases 21 participants of 35 had
success). The blue/green combination was the
less remembered (6 participants of 35). Note that
the opposite combination green/blue has
registered a success rate of 17 individuals in 35.
Fig. 2. Number of words successfully
remembered with the respect to
corresponding text colour on white
background
In the fourth and last session, participants
observed words written in complementary
colours on complementary colour backgrounds.
In this case, the most remembered word
corresponds to the combination cyan/magenta
(12 participants in 35). The most confusing
combination resulted the yellow/magenta (0
individuals in 35), jointly with the comb
yellow/cyan (1 of 35). Generally speaking, the
combinations containing yellow as foreground
colour registered the worst performance, jointly
with the combination containing yellow as the
background colour (indeed, cyan/yellow
registered 4 successes
out of 35, while
magenta/yellow registered 8 successes of 35).
3.4 The EEG Analysis
The BCI device transmits an EEG signal already
filtered to remove the 50 Hz frequency band
related to electric power equipment. Moreover, it
detects also eye blinks, thu
s avoiding a specific
filtering work. Other motion related activities
should be detected with ad hoc signal analysis,
not been considered here because the visual
inspection the signal in general did not show
these typical features.
Collected data have bee
n divided into stimulus
image related epochs. The epoched data were
; Article no.
BJAST.2015.241
During the third session the stimulus used was
composed of a word written in a primary colour
our background. The most
successful combinations were two: red/blue and
blue/red (in both cases 21 participants of 35 had
success). The blue/green combination was the
less remembered (6 participants of 35). Note that
the opposite combination green/blue has
registered a success rate of 17 individuals in 35.
Fig. 2. Number of words successfully
remembered with the respect to
corresponding text colour on white
In the fourth and last session, participants
observed words written in complementary
colours on complementary colour backgrounds.
In this case, the most remembered word
corresponds to the combination cyan/magenta
(12 participants in 35). The most confusing
combination resulted the yellow/magenta (0
individuals in 35), jointly with the comb
ination
yellow/cyan (1 of 35). Generally speaking, the
combinations containing yellow as foreground
colour registered the worst performance, jointly
with the combination containing yellow as the
background colour (indeed, cyan/yellow
out of 35, while
magenta/yellow registered 8 successes of 35).
The BCI device transmits an EEG signal already
filtered to remove the 50 Hz frequency band
related to electric power equipment. Moreover, it
s avoiding a specific
filtering work. Other motion related activities
should be detected with ad hoc signal analysis,
not been considered here because the visual
inspection the signal in general did not show
n divided into stimulus
-
image related epochs. The epoched data were
Folgieri et al.; BJAST, 9(1): 1-11, 2015; Article no.BJAST.2015.241
7
preliminary filtered in the interval 1-80 Hz.
Subsequently, we performed the band
decomposition and we visually inspected all the
rhythms (delta, theta, alpha, beta and gamma).
We computed the Pearson correlation index and
the band synchronization index for all band
couples and for each participant. To obtain a
uniform result among all individuals, we
performed the same steps on each single epoch
for each participant. The comparison of the
obtained indexes among all participants for each
epoch confirmed the results obtained in single
participants analysis. Due to this reason, we will
summarize the results referring to epochs and to
comparison among all the participants, reporting
in the following figures some relevant example of
the obtained results.
For all the participants, and for all the
combinations of colours, the maximum value of
the Pearson correlation index (ranging from 0.47
to 0.89) has been registered for bands couples
theta/alpha, theta / beta and alpha/beta.
Concerning the results related to the alpha/beta
couple, the Pearson correlation can easily be
explained considering the interdependent
complementary of the alpha and the beta
rhythms. Interesting enough, the correlation
between theta and, respectively alpha and beta
rhythms, has been found also considering the
epochs corresponding to words correctly
remembered, indicating a high attentional level of
participants who saw:
- the cyan background in the first session
(words in black on coloured background);
- the blue colour in the second session
(coloured words on white background);
- the red/blue and blue/red combinations in
the third session (primary colour words on
primary colour backgrounds);
- the cyan/magenta combination in the
fourth session (complementary colour
words on complementary colour
backgrounds).
Also the minimum value of the Pearson
correlation index corresponds, in most cases, to
the less remembered words, except for the
combination given by primary colour words on
primary colour backgrounds. Indeed, in this case
the minimum correlation index has been
registered for the combination green/blue,
instead of blue/green.
The synchronization index gives indication on
neuron co-operation for perceptual or cognitive
tasks. This is the reason why the
correspondence among the different analysis
performed and the indices calculated is
particularly significant. In Table 1, as an
example, we show the values of the
synchronization index obtained from one of the
participants in the first session, around each
stimulus onset, for the band couple theta-beta.
As told, we computed the synchronization index
for the band couples theta-beta and theta-alpha,
for all the individuals, for each experimental
session and for each stimulus, following the
indication of the Pearson correlation analysis.
The band couple theta-beta showed the highest
values in synchronization index, thus revealing
the performance of cognitive process (see
Table 2).
Table 1. Intra-band Pearson correlation index corresponding to each stimulus
Black words on coloured backgrounds
Background colour
theta-alpha
theta-beta
theta-gamma
alpha-gamma
beta-gamma
Red 0,116 0,601 0,025 0,521 0,684
Green 0,866 0,210 0,091 0,344 0,244
Blue 0,948 0,935 0,612 0,378 0,541
Cyan 0,923 0,961 0,935 0,909 0,940
Magenta 0,411 0,692 0,415 0,678 0,255
Yellow 0,282 0,703 0,345 0,434 0,303
Coloured words on white backgrounds
Words colour
theta-alpha
theta-beta
theta-gamma
alpha-gamma
beta-gamma
Green 0,798 0,946 -0,680 0,630 0,584
Blue 0,859 0,966 0,435 0,367 0,445
Red 0,789 -0,190 -0,044 -0,509 0,853
Magenta 0,463 0,676 0,128 0,538 0,246
Yellow 0,231 0,864 0,892 0,456 0,900
Cyan 0,879 0,854 0,306 0,641 0,888
Folgieri et al.; BJAST, 9(1): 1-11, 2015; Article no.BJAST.2015.241
8
Table 2. Stimulus-related synchronization
index during the first experimental session
(black words on primary and complementary
colour backgrounds), for the band couple
theta-beta
Stimulus
Synchronization index theta-beta
yellow 0.861
red 0.714
blue 0.84
cyan 0.908
green 0.785
magenta 0.74
Confirming the results obtained by the Pearson
correlation analysis, the highest synchronization
values were obtained in correspondence of the
colour stimuli allowing a greater remembering of
the presented words. In this case, the found
synchronization index corresponds with
behavioural findings, as shown, as an example,
in next diagrams related to one randomly chosen
participant and to theta-beta rhythms couple (see
Fig. 3).
Fig. 3. Comparison among the Pearson
correlation and the synchronization index for
each colour stimulus related to a randomly
chosen participant.
3.5 Discussion
The comparison of the results obtained by the
two cognitive / behavioural analysis and EEG
signal analysis approaches indicated some
relevant results concerning the power of blue
spectrum components. Indeed, results obtained
by the behavioural analysis matched the results
of the EEG analysis, revealing a high activation
of cognitive processes corresponding to theta,
alpha and beta cerebral rhythms.
First of all, we noted that to a high
synchronization index the most remembered
word corresponds. Confirming our hypothesis on
yellow and cyan colours, for almost all
participants in the first condition the value of the
synchronization index of the cyan colour is higher
than the yellow one.
We found that the colours having a greater
impact on remembering words were cyan, blue
and the combinations red/blue, blue/red and
cyan/magenta, respectively:
- The cyan background in the first
experimental session (words in black on
coloured background).
- the blue colour in the second experiment
(coloured words on white background)
- the red/blue and blue/red combinations in
the third experimental session (primary
colour words on primary colour
backgrounds)
- The cyan/magenta combination in the
fourth experiment (complementary colour
words on complementary colour
backgrounds).
Interestingly, the effect of the blue spectra
colours is particularly consistent among the
different conditions, while other colours effects
seem to be modulated by a variety of factors.
The EEG data tend to confirm this consistency,
clearly suggesting that the effect of blue stimuli is
grounded in the biology of the human nervous
system.
From a cognitive point of view, our results
suggest that a blue stimulus may play an
important role in positively modulate the cognitive
comfort of a subject, increasing alertness,
memory performance and the psychological
experience. It is well known that short
wavelength light, in particular the blue spectrum,
represents a modulator signal for the functioning
of the central nervous system (Goldstein [20]).
About a decade ago a new kind of receptor,
described as a light/dark signaller, was
discovered in the retina (Brainard et al. [21]).
Interestingly, the receptor is tuned to be sensitive
only to the blue light and its reactivity seems to
be enhanced when a red signal precedes a blue
stimulation (Hill and Barton [22]). The light/dark
receptors are aimed to tell the brain whether it's
light or dark outside, and they work sending
inputs to the biological clock (i.e. the
suprachiasmatic nucleus), rather than the vision
cortex (Soldat et al. [23]). We wish to recall that
Folgieri et al.; BJAST, 9(1): 1-11, 2015; Article no.BJAST.2015.241
9
the circuit formed by the suprachiasmatic
nucleus, the dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus
and the nucleus coeruleus (NC), seems to play
an important regulatory role in the functioning of
the brain and cognitive performance, changing
the level of alertness. In particular, the NC is
modulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus which
in turn is modulated by the light perceived by the
eye. In particular, the wavelength peak
corresponding to the blue colour (between 450
and 480 nm) captured by the light/dark retina
receptors are able to modify the firing level of the
NC. The NC is part of a circuit output used by the
central nervous system to adjust the periodicity
of a series of processes, through the release of
a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine.
Norepinephrine regulates the excitability of
neurons in the thalamus and the cerebral cortex.
The NC is also activated by stimuli of particular
importance during wakefulness, thus playing a
role as a modulator of the alert and arousal and,
more generally, of the cognitive performance. In
particular, the activity of the NC during
wakefulness is related to the level of attention.
When the neurons of the CN show phasic activity
(i.e. is responsive to specific stimuli) the
maintenance of focused attention with respect to
specific stimuli and/or tasks (Aston-Jones and
Cohen [16]) is facilitated. Hence, a blue
stimulation could act on the central nervous
system as a kind of signal reset, so resetting the
cycle in progress and restoring the attention
system at a high level, i.e. waiting for input data
to be processed. Our results support the
hypothesis that a blue or cyan text on particular
backgrounds (i.e. those with high contrast) may
provide a better cognitive performance due to the
high level of expectation triggered by the
exposure to a blue radiation.
We have also found interesting results regarding
the correlation among cognitive performances,
the colour features and the EEG modulation. In
fact, the synchronization of theta waves during
learning tasks seems to be meaningful. Previous
research showed the event-related theta band
power responds specifically to prolonged visual
emotional stimulation (Krause et al. [24]) and a
synchronization was revealed in case of
coordinated responses indicating alertness,
arousal and readiness to process information
(Basar [17]). In other studies, theta activity has
been reported in neocortical areas as well, as in
Kahana and colleagues (Kahana et al. [25];
Caplan et al. [26]) who used intracranial EEG
measurements. The spectral analyses of scalp-
recorded EEG are dominated by cortical activity
and shows clear patterns of theta activity in
memory paradigms. Our results confirm the
correlation between theta synchronization and
attention-related tasks. Furthermore, it seems
plausible that the level of alertness is modulated
by the colour of text and that the synchronization
of frontal theta.
4. CONCLUSION
Through the preliminary studies presented in this
paper, we wanted first of all to test the reliability
and the effectiveness of the use of a BCI device
as a tool to find out cortical correlates of
cognitive tasks, so to easily bridge basic and
applied cognitive research.
We were seeking for a portable device, allowing
individuals to feel comfortable during and
experiment while we were registering EEG
signals, interesting for its high time resolution. In
fact, from a cognitive point of view, we needed to
evaluate conscious and unconscious response
from users, focusing both on the intensity of the
brain mechanisms activation and on the time
passing from the stimulus onset and the
individuals’ reaction thus orienting to the EEG
Brain Imaging technique. The use of a
confortable, easy-to-use, single electrode BCI
device demonstrated to a valid option for
research aimed to link behaviour and brain
functioning from an olistic point of view. In fact,
even if such a study cannot clarify the brain
mechanisms underlying specific behaviours, it is
possibile to find out interesting correlations
between cortical signals and overt performance.
This indication might be very useful in
understanding global cognitive processes, such
as attention and memory, and to give rise to
brain-based tools potentially useful in a number
of fields (Folgieri and Zichella [5]), e.g. education
and cognitive empowerment.
In conclusion, the present study clearly suggests
that the exposition to a blue stimulus and the use
of a combination of item/background dominated
by the blue hues constitute conditions able to
improve the cognitive comfort of subjects. A blue
stimulation seems to act preparing both the body
and the brain of a subject to be ready to face
demanding environments. Indeed, a blue light
increases alertness, help to focus attention, but
also act on the emotional sphere by increasing
the self-confidence and the feeling to be able to
cope with the situation. Similarly, a blue stimulus
seems to be able to directly affect the cognitive
systems, improving memory and learning. To
Folgieri et al.; BJAST, 9(1): 1-11, 2015; Article no.BJAST.2015.241
10
reach this aim it’s clear that the non-visual and
the visual optical systems need to collaborate in
order to optimize the performance and to get an
adequate cognitive fitness suitable to recruit the
resources needed to cope with a give task. In
particular, the enhancing effect of red features
when coupled with blue stimuli seems to prove
this important functional collaboration (Chellappa
et al. [13]).
It is also notable that we found some important
clues about antagonistic effect among colours. In
particular, coupling stimulation within the blue
spectrum with green and yellow features clearly
resulted in a decrease of the cognitive fitness.
Also in this case, the effect should be read as the
result of the antagonist effects of two different
optical systems not adequately stimulated.
Hence, it is clear that a text written in antagonist
colours will result in worse cognitive
performance, and thus should be avoided.
Taken on a whole, our results suggest that a
cognitive-driven design of the artificial
illumination and overall of working and didactic
materials should strongly improve learning
performances. This might be particularly true in
case of learning disorders, both in adults and
children. Our data not only suggest that text
should be written following a cognitive guide, but
also the analysis of physiological and cortical
correlates of empowered performances should
be used to plan neurodidactic tools and protocols
directly aimed to help teachers and educators to
obtain better results from their pupils or to
contribute in rehabilitation programs within
clinical settings.
Obviously, cautions should be used in
generalizing the presented data. Indeed, some
methodological limits are clearly present. In
particular, our stimuli were presented in ways
different from usual reading conditions, and so
we cannot completely evaluate the effect of
different combination of colours on the memory
of usual text formats. Furthermore, we tested
only memory of items in just one occasion and a
few minutes after the trial. It would be interesting
to evaluate long term effect, so to be able to
extend our results to more general learning
process. It is also clear that our interpretation of
data is limited by the experimental setting and
the BCI device used. The experimental setting
could improved through a better control and
measure of the light/colour stimulation actually
perceived by subjects. Finally, the use a mono-
electrode device naturally constrains our ability to
analyse cortical correlates. However, one of our
hypothesis was that also a simple BCI device
should provide data usable to interpret
behavioural and cognitive results, even though
these data might have a different meaning with
respect to normal EEG data. Future research
should address these aspects, since we believe
that the wearable and comfortable technology,
e.g. a wireless light BCI, will play a fundamental
role in cognitive science in order to collect data in
a more ecological fashion.
COMPETING INTERESTS
Authors have declared that no competing
interests exist.
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_________________________________________________________________________________
© 2015 Folgieri et al.; This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License
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Peer-review history:
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