Better than sleep: theta neurofeedback training accelerates memory consolidation.
While human brains are specialized for complex and variable real world tasks, most neuroscience studies reduce environmental complexity, which limits the range of behaviours that can be explored. Motivated to overcome this limitation, we conducted a large-scale experiment with electroencephalography (EEG) based brain-computer interface (BCI) technology as part of an immersive multi-media science-art installation. Data from 523 participants were collected in a single night. The exploratory experiment was designed as a collective computer game where players manipulated mental states of relaxation and concentration with neurofeedback targeting modulation of relative spectral power in alpha and beta frequency ranges. Besides validating robust time-of-night effects, gender differences and distinct spectral power patterns for the two mental states, our results also show differences in neurofeedback learning outcome. The unusually large sample size allowed us to detect unprecedented speed of learning changes in the power spectrum (~ 1 min). Moreover, we found that participants' baseline brain activity predicted subsequent neurofeedback beta training, indicating state-dependent learning. Besides revealing these training effects, which are relevant for BCI applications, our results validate a novel platform engaging art and science and fostering the understanding of brains under natural conditions.