Brain-Based Binary Communication Using Spatiotemporal Features of fNIRS Responses

Laurien Nagels-Coune*, Amaia Benitez-Andonegui, Niels Reuter, Michael Lührs, Rainer Goebel, Peter De Weerd, Lars Riecke, Bettina Sorger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


“Locked-in” patients lose their ability to communicate naturally due to motor system dysfunction. Brain-computer interfacing offers a solution for their inability to communicate by enabling motor-independent communication. Straightforward and convenient in-session communication is essential in clinical environments. The present study introduces a functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)-based binary communication paradigm that requires limited preparation time and merely nine optodes. Eighteen healthy participants performed two mental imagery tasks, mental drawing and spatial navigation, to answer yes/no questions during one of two auditorily cued time windows. Each of the six questions was answered five times, resulting in five trials per answer. This communication paradigm thus combines both spatial (two different mental imagery tasks, here mental drawing for “yes” and spatial navigation for “no”) and temporal (distinct time windows for encoding a “yes” and “no” answer) fNIRS signal features for information encoding. Participants’ answers were decoded in simulated real-time using general linear model analysis. Joint analysis of all five encoding trials resulted in an average accuracy of 66.67 and 58.33% using the oxygenated (HbO) and deoxygenated (HbR) hemoglobin signal respectively. For half of the participants, an accuracy of 83.33% or higher was reached using either the HbO signal or the HbR signal. For four participants, effective communication with 100% accuracy was achieved using either the HbO or HbR signal. An explorative analysis investigated the differentiability of the two mental tasks based solely on spatial fNIRS signal features. Using multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) group single-trial accuracies of 58.33% (using 20 training trials per task) and 60.56% (using 40 training trials per task) could be obtained. Combining the five trials per run using a majority voting approach heightened these MVPA accuracies to 62.04 and 75%. Additionally, an fNIRS suitability questionnaire capturing participants’ physical features was administered to explore its predictive value for evaluating general data quality. Obtained questionnaire scores correlated significantly (r = -0.499) with the signal-to-noise of the raw light intensities. While more work is needed to further increase decoding accuracy, this study shows the potential of answer encoding using spatiotemporal fNIRS signal features or spatial fNIRS signal features only.
Original languageEnglish
Article number113
Number of pages20
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2020


  • EEG
  • NIRS
  • binary communication
  • brain computer interface
  • functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS)
  • mental drawing
  • mental imagery
  • motor imagery
  • no decoding
  • spatial navigation
  • yes

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