Neuroscience in Virtual and Augmented Reality

Analyzing human brain-activity data in virtual reality opens a wide variety of possibilities for study. We can create artificial situations in which to test paradigms without the constraints of space and cost of building a real environment. In this sense, we use the techniques we have developed to analyze mobile brain-body imaging data in the context of human-centered architectural design within virtual reality. The work focuses on cognitive capacities of participants’ and their changes in different interior and exterior design experiences.

PI: Saleh Kalantari

Neuroscience of the human creative process

Mobile Brain-Body Imaging technology, adaptive experimental protocols, and robust data analysis techniques allow for the study of freely-behaving artistic production. We developed experimental protocols that tap into the stages of the human creative process across modalities of art from which to inquire for a common cortical pattern associated with creative production, and individual differences related to modality or the artists themselves. 

These experiments are conducted in public venues, usually with an audience and questions at the end. The setup provides a practical platform for scientific outreach and a driven discussion between the artists, researchers, and audience.

PI: Jose L. Contreras-Vidal


Visual art: collage and drawing

In the spirit of the Exquisite Corpse, a collaborative chance-based game invented by the Surrealists in the 1920s, groups of three artists created drawing and collage artworks while their brain activity and body movements were recorded. The artists were free to move, experiment with new materials, improvise on their work, and interact with the audience. With this unconstrained experimental, and involving the artists in the experimental design, we directed our efforts into replicating the experience, and lead to an authentic reproduction of their creative process.

PI: Jose L. Contreras-Vidal

Picture credit: Carlos Landa, UH Cullen College of Engineering.

Longitudinal Creative Process

In our longitudinal study of the human creative process, we worked with Houston-based installation artist, Jo Ann Fleischhauer, as she collected her own brain-activity data over 18 months as she prepared for an upcoming installation.  We aimed to capture the evolving, highly dynamic, and long-term nature of the creative process in naturalist, complex settings. The artist was able to integrate wearable mobile brain-body imaging technology into her everyday life while maximizing comfort and ensuring the integrity of her creative activity. We used mobile dry EEG, a head accelerometer, and video recording of her activities in her workplaces.

PI: Jose L. Contreras-Vidal

Picture credit: Carlos Landa, UH Cullen College of Engineering.

Creative writing

We designed a series of experiments to study the human creative process as students developed their creative writing skills in a real class-room setting. We used mobile EEG systems in a variety of tasks aimed at capturing the evolving nature of the writing process, from pre-conception, research, planning, execution, oral commentary, and revision. This research was conducted in collaboration with the department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston, PhD in Creative Writing program.

PI: Jose L. Contreras-Vidal


Groups of three jazz musicians played improvised pieces in the spirit of the Exquisite Corpse. One musician would play for 5min while the others listened, then a second musician would join, and finally the third would join for the last 5min. This experimental setup allows us to inquire into synchronicity and disparity in their performance, what neural features, and what neural features correlate with these intentions. 

PI: Jose L. Contreras-Vidal

Picture credit: Houston Community College Spring Branch Campus


We used mobile brain-body imaging to study human movement performance. In the spirit of the Exquisite Corpse, groups of three dancers performed dance improvisation and shared movements during short periods of time.

In another experiment, Becky Valls, professor of dance at the University of Houston, choreographed a performance of “Red Square” that would include her brain activity measurements in the lighting of the theater. We trained a brain-computer interface to identify brain activity patterns and associate them to classes (annotations) provided by the dancer. The performance had the dancer’s brain activity in a closed look mechanism where previously-annotated brain activity patterns segments would initiate a sequence of light dynamics in the theater.

PI: Jose L. Contreras-Vidal

Culinary Arts

The University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management and the Cullen College of Engineering’s Laboratory for Noninvasive Brain-Machine Interface (BMI) Systems collaborated to show the brain activity associated with the creative process of producing original recipes. Culinary artists were setup with mobile EEG, inertial measurement units, and their performance was recorded with video cameras above each of them.  

PI: Jose L. Contreras-Vidal

Picture credit: Carlos Landa, UH Cullen College of Engineering.

Natural cognition in museums

We study natural cognition on hundreds of volunteers as they experienced art exhibits in museums. The volunteers are recruited organically in the museum site, driven by their own curiosity and questions on the process of neuroscience.

Participants are equipped with a mobile EEG cap, body monitoring sensors (location tracking, accelerometers, etc), and video recording of their experience. The recordings are later annotated by our team and the brain activity associated to their aesthetic experience is analyzed offline. 

PI: Jose L. Contreras-Vidal

Picture Credit: Indianapolis Musuem of Art

Exoskeletons and neuro-rehabilitation (2014-2015)

In our neuro-rehabilitation research, the goal is to have the user control a lower limb exoskeleton with their brain activity: the exoskeleton would walk only when the user has the intention to move. In this case, the user is directly involved in their rehabilitation process, with the exoskeleton acting as an extension of their body: as an assistive device in case of stroke or lesions, and as movement driver in case of spinal cord injury. We used commercial, low cost, mobile EEG devices to control a custom lower-limb exoskeleton.

PI: Jose L. Contreras-Vidal

Motor-Cognitive Development (2014)

Motor-cognitive development in infants was studied in an improvisational, freely-moving setup with Electroencephalography, inertial motor units, and video recordings. Our team interacted with the infants by showing them an action with toys that were layed on the table close to the infants. The infant would observe the actions, grab the object, explore the object, and, on occasion, imitate the action performed by the experimenter.  We were interested in those imitation trials. This setup allows for the study of neural network dynamics in the developing brain, in action and context, as these networks are recruited during goal-oriented, exploration and social interaction tasks.

PI: Jose L. Contreras-Vidal

Fiber optics and electrodynamics (2013)

The measurement of accuracy and repeatability of signal transmission in Single Mode UPC and APC Optical Fiber Connectors is critical for reliable data transmission between long-distance fiber optic tracks. The goal of this research was to design a low-cost robust technique for measuring Insertion Loss (IL) due to high concentricity misalignment. The selection of a golden-standard reference connectors is most critical for product testing.

To identify Golden Connectors, golden candidates need to be selected and tested against each other in order to be evaluated with the Data Analysis Criteria proposed in this work. With a Golden connector used as reference, connectors under test can be classified as Low Loss or High Loss Reference connectors according to the defined IL specifications.

PI: Yan Hua and Costas Saravanos