Quantifying the role of motor imagery in brain-machine interfaces
Despite technical advances in brain machine interfaces (BMI), for as-yet unknown reasons the ability to control a BMI remains limited to a subset of users. We investigate whether individual differences in BMI control based on motor imagery (MI) are related to differences in MI ability. We assessed whether differences in kinesthetic and visual MI, in the behavioral accuracy of MI, and in electroencephalographic variables, were able to differentiate between high- versus low-aptitude BMI users. High-aptitude BMI users showed higher MI accuracy as captured by subjective and behavioral measurements, pointing to a prominent role of kinesthetic rather than visual imagery. Additionally, for the first time, we applied mental chronometry, a measure quantifying the degree to which imagined and executed movements share a similar temporal profile. We also identified enhanced lateralized μ-band oscillations over sensorimotor cortices during MI in high- versus low-aptitude BMI users. These findings reveal that subjective, behavioral, and EEG measurements of MI are intimately linked to BMI control. We propose that poor BMI control cannot be ascribed only to intrinsic limitations of EEG recordings and that specific questionnaires and mental chronometry can be used as predictors of BMI performance (without the need to record EEG activity).