Mind-Reading or Misleading? Assessing Direct-to-Consumer Electroencephalography (EEG) Devices Marketed for Wellness and Their Ethical and Regulatory Implications

Abstract

The market for direct-to-consumer brain health products—including brain-training games, neurostimulation devices, and consumer electroencephalography (EEG) devices—is expected to top $3 billion by 2020. While many direct-to-consumer neurotechnology products have come under scrutiny from scientists and regulators, one set of products—consumer EEG devices—have largely escaped scholarly and regulatory critique. While these products do not present overt safety risks, by claiming to provide individuals with “snapshots” of their own mental states, they present a subtle, and arguably more complex, set of ethical issues. In addition, consumer EEG companies often explicitly or implicitly rely on studies conducted in the field of neurofeedback, a domain in which almost all adequately controlled studies point to little more than an interesting placebo effect. This paper presents an initial critique of consumer EEG devices, focusing only on devices that are marketed directly to consumers for improving their well-being. We categorize the behavioral and wellness-related marketing claims made by consumer EEG companies, analyze the evidence base for such claims, and argue that the ethical and legal issues wrought by these devices deserve greater attention.

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Correspondence to Anna Wexler.

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Wexler, A., Thibault, R. Mind-Reading or Misleading? Assessing Direct-to-Consumer Electroencephalography (EEG) Devices Marketed for Wellness and Their Ethical and Regulatory Implications. J Cogn Enhanc 3, 131–137 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41465-018-0091-2

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Keywords

  • Direct-to-consumer neurotechnology
  • Electroencephalography
  • EEG
  • Cognitive enhancement
  • Brain health
  • Neurofeedback
  • Neuroethics
  • Regulation of neurotechnology