The role of the interplay between stimulus type and timing in explaining BCI-illiteracy for visual P300-based Brain-Computer Interfaces

Roberta Carabalona

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visual P300-based Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) spellers enable communication or interaction with the environment by flashing elements in a matrix and exploiting consequent changes in end-user's brain activity. Despite research efforts, performance variability and BCI-illiteracy still are critical issues for real world applications. Moreover, there is a quite unaddressed kind of BCI-illiteracy, which becomes apparent when the same end-user operates BCI-spellers intended for different applications: our aim is to understand why some well performers can become BCI-illiterate depending on speller type. We manipulated stimulus type (factor STIM: either characters or icons), color (factor COLOR: white, green) and timing (factor SPEED: fast, slow). Each BCI session consisted of training (without feedback) and performance phase (with feedback), both in copy-spelling. For fast flashing spellers, we observed a performance worsening for white icon-speller. Our findings are consistent with existing results reported on end-users using identical white×fast spellers, indicating independence of worsening trend from users' group. The use of slow stimulation timing shed a new light on the perceptual and cognitive phenomena related to the use of a BCI-speller during both the training and the performance phase. We found a significant STIM main effect for the N1 component on Pz and PO7 during the training phase and on PO8 during the performance phase, whereas in both phases neither the STIM×COLOR interaction nor the COLOR main effect was statistically significant. After collapsing data for factor COLOR, it emerged a statistically significant modulation of N1 amplitude depending to the phase of BCI session: N1 was more negative for icons than for characters both on Pz and PO7 (training), whereas the opposite modulation was observed for PO8 (performance). Results indicate that both feedback and expertise with respect to the stimulus type can modulate the N1 component and that icons require more perceptual analysis. Therefore, fast flashing is likely to be more detrimental for end-users' performance in case of icon-spellers. In conclusion, the interplay between stimulus type and timing seems relevant for a satisfactory and efficient end-user's BCI-experience.

Original languageEnglish
Article number363
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberJUN
Publication statusPublished - Jun 30 2017


  • BCI-illiteracy
  • Brain-computer interface
  • N1
  • P300
  • Semantic categorization
  • Usability
  • User experience
  • Visual cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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