If Athletes Train the Body, Why Not Train the Brain?

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, an athlete is a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina. A popular belief may be that the bigger, faster, and quicker an athlete is, the better. While physical characteristics differ among the sport being played and even within the same sport, all athletes spend a lot of their time conditioning their bodies to be physically fit for the sport they play. But what about conditioning their minds?

One company believes they’ve found a way to help athletes mentally prepare for the rigor of sports. Halo Neuroscience develops and sells the Halo Sport neurosimulation headset. Their product aims to “trigger a neuroplasticity state in which neurons in the motor cortex can more easily build and strengthen neural connections to muscles.” The motor cortex of the brain contributes to the planning, control, and execution of voluntary movements, such as running. For a period of 20 minutes, the headset delivers electrical pulses through comb-like elastic foam nibs to the motor cortex. Following this session, users will have about an hour to better learn whatever activity they want to practice. Halo’s target market is athletes looking to improve their strength or endurance through repetitive training exercises, as well as improve other skills involving muscle memory.

Technology provides an opportunity for athletes to gain a competitive edge over their opponents. Halo Neuroscience was co-founded in 2013 by Daniel Chao, who earned his MD and MS in neuroscience at Stanford University. Chao recognizes the importance of the brain in sport, and his ideas are catching on. The NFL, MLB, Olympic sport, and pro cycling have begun to take advantage of his company’s product and have seen positive results. He describes the technology as a “pre-workout for the brain,” immediately giving athletes a sensation of motor readiness that they normally may not feel until 20 or 30 minutes into a workout.

However, this so-called game changer carries with it legal risks. Neurotechnology if misused has the potential to allow undue influence on people’s behavior or cause serious physical or psychological harm. The first question that will need to be explored is whether the traditional right to privacy covers the data contained in and generated by our minds. Traditional privacy laws are focused on safeguarding external information. With the Halo Sport neurosimulation headset connected to an application with Bluetooth, technology is requiring a more modern understanding of privacy. In the future, with the likelihood that neuroscience will play a larger role, the protection of the data produced by one’s neural processing will become a main concern. A formal right to mental privacy may need to be introduced to address this.

Additionally, the use of neurotechnology may result in direct harm to the user. As identified by Ienca and Haselager, neurocriminal activities that influence neural computation of users are analogous to how computers are hacked in computer crime. Such criminal agents could override the signal sent by the user to the device and hijack the user’s control over the application and device itself. As suggested by Ienca and Andorno, the right to mental integrity should include the right of all individuals to protect their mental dimension from potential harm. Not only that, but the use of such devices carry the risk that people may misuse them and suffer a negative impact on their neural functioning.

Needless to say, with neurotechnology becoming more prevalent, certain rights, such as the right to mental privacy and mental integrity, need to be addressed.

BZ. Allison, EW. Wolpaw, et al. “Hacking the Brain: Brain–Computer Interfacing Technology and the Ethics of Neurosecurity.” Ethics and Information Technology, Springer Netherlands, 1 Jan.

Ienca, Marcello, and Roberto Andorno. “Towards New Human Rights in the Age of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology.” Life Sciences, Society and Policy, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Dec. 2017.

“Is Neuroscience the Future of Sports Science?” NeuroTracker, 25 Oct. 2018.

“Will Neuropriming Be A Game-Changer for Sport Performance?” Leaders, 28 July 2017.

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