Live from the Quant Cave – HRV and Brainwaves

My wife and I bought a house and we took keys on Friday. As we did the inevitable partitioning of who got what closet, bathroom and kitchen bar stool I found the former owner’s Man Cave had been repurposed into the place we watch TV in the evenings. I didn’t mind as I am not a Man Cave guy. It sounds like a place where you are allowed to stink and let hair accumulate in the drains. Not my thing. So I appropriated a small room in the converted attic and made it my Quant Cave. It is all plugs, wires, devices and KNOWLEDGE! No TV’s, guns, booze or dart boards. And no drains, so no hair clogs. A place where you can look at HRV and brainwaves.

HRV and Brainwaves

When I was at the Denver Quantified Self Meetup I had a chance to meet Tess who very helpfully had an extra Muse EEG headset that she let me purchase. I had seen a demo of the technology on two occasions and really liked what I had seen. My experience with the other EEG outfit Neurosky had been poor. The headsets (I tried two) were always dropping signal and I got so frustrated that I threw them in the special drawer where I put my Tinke, Google Glass and other wearables that either didn’t work or were no longer relevant. That’s a pretty expensive drawer.

For the last two weeks I have been playing with the Muse headset. I like the physical product. One button push to turn on and you wear it on like a pair of glasses with a metal strip against your forehead. It is comfortable and it connects well. I have not had it fail to pair yet.

The only way you can use it with the stock iOS app is to do meditation sessions where you are giving a “% calm” score and then a pretty flat gamification model that awards you “birds.” So you collect birds and can count breaths for 3 to 45 minutes. Your brain activity is displayed as a wave but there is no hard data and does not look like I can export anything yet.

My interest is the relation between my thinking and heart rate variability (HRV). For instance, if I am thoughtful and running through my to-do list in my head does that trigger an escalation in the “get moving” response and lower my HRV? If I am conducting a negotiation and my physiology is relaxed and my brain engaged, does the device measure an increase in my brain activity increase? Or for that matter, if I am in Vapor Lock does my brain activity drop?

In a pre-trial of the ideas here I did some HRV readings while doing the Muse meditation and found no correlation (R=.036) between low brain activity (“calm”) and high HRV (also “calm”). It looked like I could have an active brain and my HRV be quite variable and vice verse. Stage set for a future study if I can work my way past bird counting and the pre-packaged basic Muse product  presentation. To the Quant Cave!

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