When performing challenging and dangerous tasks, our state of mind can have great effect on whether we succeed or fail. During emergencies some people panic while others remain calm. Some people get so influenced by emotion that an easy task, such as simply running out of a building, can turn into a disaster all of its own.

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Turns out that this state of mind can be pretty easily manipulated, as researches at Columbia University have shown. This poses exciting possibilities for human potential as well as interesting ethical dilemmas that will have to be dealt with in the future.

The Columbia team used a brain-computer interface to manage the “arousal” of individuals while they were operating a plane in a flying computer simulator. The investigators had people wear EEG (electroencephalography) caps that monitored their brain waves. The caps could also generate neurofeedback signals to influence brain activity. While the people were flying the simulator, the system was coordinated to try to moderate their arousal levels during some of the more difficult maneuvers.

In their findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report a 20 percent improvement in performance. This is quite impressive, as this is a very early study of this technology and there’s certainly a huge potential to improve its capabilities.

Here’s one of the researchers explaining the work:

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