What Is the Science Behind the Muse Headband?

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The Muse S has been billed as a brain-sensing headband, and while it might not be able to read your thoughts, it could help you with your meditation and even get a better night’s sleep. But how does it work? And is it as effective as it is advertised to be? 

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What Is the Muse Headband?

The Muse S is the latest Muse headband to hit the market. It is designed to measure brain waves using EEG (electroencephalography) technology. Specifically, it aims to capture brain waves related to attention, known as alpha waves. It uses a series of sensors that pick up on electrical activity in the skin produced by the brain underneath. There are two sensors on the forehead (left and right) and an additional two that can be added to the earpods and placed behind the ears. 

The Muse S Headband was initially designed only for help with meditation, which is why it is often referred to as the Muse meditation headband. The idea behind it is that you wear the headband while you are meditating (using the guided meditation provided by the associated Muse app). 

While you are meditating, the headband will measure your level of attention using alpha waves detected by the EEG sensors and your movements. If your attention starts to wander or you start to fidget, the headband will play louder and louder sounds. As you start to bring your attention back to the guided meditation from the meditation app, the sounds get quieter and quieter. 

This is a form of neurofeedback that can help you perfect your meditation and mindfulness techniques, which could help you lower your stress levels and relax. 

The Muse S headband now offers sleep tracking features. You wear it to bed, and it will collect data on how long it takes you to fall asleep and your sleep duration and quality. The app will then help you improve your sleep health through guided meditation, relaxation techniques, and focus strategies. 

The sleep side of the Muse device is a little less defined than the meditation and neurofeedback features, and some people do report that the headband is uncomfortable to wear to bed. 

Either way, the major focus of the Muse S is that it is an EEG headset that measures brain activity related to attention, which can then be used as neurofeedback to improve meditation and mindfulness and, in turn, mental health. 

The sensors on the headband record brain wave activity in the form of an electrical signal, which can then be converted into EEG data and interpreted by an algorithm that will identify times when there are high levels of attention as signified by alpha brainwaves. 

If you are an avid practicer of meditation and want to improve your technique or reduce your stress and anxiety, or even if you want to lower your fatigue and learn how to get into a deep sleep, this piece of wearable tech could be the perfect solution. 

But what does the research say about the Muse brain-sensing headband? Does it work as well as is claimed? The evidence is mixed so let’s take a closer look. 

The Science Behind the Muse Headband

Researchers have been so interested in the Muse headband because it opens up the possibility of an inexpensive and portable EEG device that could make EEG technology more accessible and easy to use for research studies. So there has been a fair amount of work looking at how the Muse headband compares to traditional EEG technology. 

The Positives

One study was conducted by researchers who aimed to validate the Muse headband in detecting cognitive fatigue using EEP and ERP (event-related potential) research. At the same time, the participant played a game on an Apple iPad. 

The researchers found ERP components and EEP oscillations in the alpha, theta, beta, and gamma ranges. These correlated in such a way that cognitive fatigue could be detected. And this was in line with previous traditional EEP research. 

On top of this, the data collection side of the research took much less time than traditional EEP data collection normally would. So the researchers concluded that the Muse EEG headset is a valuable tool that can measure brain activity related to cognitive fatigue. 

Other research has found similar results, which show the validity of using the Muse headset in ERP research by looking at a reward learning task. 

These studies demonstrate that the Muse EEG headset has the potential to be used in a variety of research settings, and not just those explicitly focused on attention. 

So what does this mean for Muse users? It seems from this research that the Muse headband measures brain activity in the way it says it does. The EEG sensors pick up on essential brainwaves that are valid and useful. For meditation practice, the Muse headband’s data does seem to be related to the brain activity the company claims that it is. 

The Negatives

While those studies show promise for the Muse headband being a helpful tool that can pick up on brain activity related to various cognitive processes, its validity and reliability may not be as clear-cut as it first appears. 

One study delved a little deeper into how reliable the EEG data from a Muse headset is and came to quite a different conclusion. 

The first thing to remember is that a standard EEG device looks quite different from a Muse headset. If you have ever had an EEG taken, you might be familiar with the swim cap style headpiece that you will need to wear. 

It contains many electrodes, some up to 256, to pick up electrical signals across the scalp. These electrodes can be dry or wet, which means that they are either wet or dry. Wet electrodes are often used in medical settings or academic research, and they are coated in an adhesive gel that allows for better contact with the scalp. 

The Muse headband uses only 2-4 electrodes, and these are dry, which makes it quicker to use but also means that it will get a less clear signal than dry electrodes. 

Traditional EEG studies have shown that mindfulness and meditation practice have noticeable effects on electrical brain activity. Specifically, there are changes in brain wave rhythms in the alpha, gamma, and theta ranges. In addition, there is also activation of brain areas related to attention (prefrontal cortex and the anterior singular cortex.) 

The researchers argue that the Muse headband is not as effective at picking up those signals as it is claimed to be. This is first because there are much fewer electrodes than there would be on a clinical EEG device, and these devices are on the forehead and behind the ear only. This means that they are likely to miss much brain activity. 

The second (and potentially more damaging) issue is noise, which is incorrect data that can make the information from the device more difficult to interpret. In the case of EEG, the noise that can interfere with brain activity data is related to muscle movements from the eyes (eye movement and blinking). 

This noise can be corrected in the data using powerful algorithms in clinical and academic settings, but this isn’t the case for the Muse headband for two reasons. First, all of the sensors are located near the face and eyes, and there are no electrodes on the scalp. This means that its data is more likely to be influenced by eye movements. 

Second, the Muse app doesn’t include an algorithm to reduce the noise from eye movements. As a result, the researchers argue that any significant brain activity data generated by the Muse headband could be mainly noise from eye movements. 

Before the headband can be considered reliable and accurate, it would need to either have more electrodes to make home use more complex, or it would also need to be connected with a better noise-canceling algorithm.

What Does This Mean for Muse Users?

These mixed research results can make it difficult for potential and current Muse users to decide whether or not the headband is doing what it says it will. 

With that being said, the negative Muse results are specifically comparing the Muse headband and Muse app to standard academic/clinical EEG devices. But Muse is not claiming that their device is as powerful as a medical EEG. 

To improve a meditation session, we as consumers can afford to be a little less stringent with the devices we use compared to clinical and academic researchers. So it is possible that the extra noise and lack of fine-grained brain activity measurements aren’t as crucial for at-home meditation and sleep tracking use.

To Wrap Up

The Muse headband is an EEG headband that measures brain activity related to attention to improving meditation and sleep. While it may not be up to the standard expected for clinical and academic research, the lack of precise and accurate brainwave data may not be as crucial for this kind of home use. So the Muse can still be a valuable tool for everyday consumer use. 

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