'Locked in': Have psychologists got the key?

Andrea Kübler discusses the psychological implications of thought-controlled computers.

My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space and time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’s court. You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions. (From the Prologue of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by J-D. Bauby, 1998) IN his famous book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Jean-Dominique Bauby vividly described how it feels to find the mind imprisoned in an immobile body. Injury or progressive neurological disease can lead to severe or total loss of voluntary motor control – patients are left with a healthy, well-functioning brain, ‘locked in’ to a paralysed body. But can interfaces between the brain and a computer – operating in real time – restore the lost sensory and motor functions? And what role can psychologists play in developing and applying such technology?

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