The role of transient target stimuli in a steady-state somatosensory evoked potential-based brain-computer interface setup

Christoph Pokorny, Christian Breitwieser, Gernot Müller-Putz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In earlier literature, so-called twitches were used to support a user in a steady-state somatosensory evoked potential (SSSEP) based brain–computer interface (BCI) to focus attention on the requested targets. Within this work, we investigate the impact of these transient target stimuli on SSSEPs in a real-life BCI setup. A hybrid BCI was designed which combines SSSEPs and P300 potentials evoked by twitches randomly embedded into the streams of tactile stimuli. The EEG of fourteen healthy subjects was recorded, while their left and right index fingers were simultaneously stimulated using frequencies selected in a screening procedure. The subjects were randomly instructed by a cue on a screen to focus attention on one or none of the fingers. Feature for SSSEPs and P300 potentials were extracted and classified using separately trained multi-class shrinkage LDA classifiers. Three-class classification accuracies significantly better than random could be reached by nine subjects using SSSEP features and by 12 subjects using P300 features respectively. The average classification accuracies were 48.6% using SSSEP and 50.7% using P300 features. By means of a Monte Carlo permutation test it could be shown that twitches have an attenuation effect on the SSSEP. Significant SSSEP blocking effects time-locked to twitch positions were found in seven subjects. Our findings suggest that the attempt to combine different types of stimulation signals like repetitive signals and twitches has a mutual influence on each other, which may be the main reason for the rather moderate BCI performance. This influence is originated at the level of stimulus generation but becomes apparent as physiological effect in the SSSEP. When designing a hybrid BCI based on SSSEPs and P300 potentials, one has to find an optimal tradeoff depending on the overall design goals or individual subjects' performance. Our results give therefore some new insights that may be useful for the successful design of hybrid BCIs.
Original languageEnglish
Article number026001
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue number152
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2016

Fields of Expertise

  • Human- & Biotechnology

Treatment code (Nähere Zuordnung)

  • Basic - Fundamental (Grundlagenforschung)
  • Experimental


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