Stress-Induced Effects in Resting EEG Spectra Predict the Performance of SSVEP-Based BCI

Hao-Yan Zhang, Cory E. Stevenson, Tzyy-Ping Jung, Li-Wei Ko*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most research in Brain-Computer-Interfaces (BCI) focuses on technologies to improve accuracy and speed. Little has been done on the effects of subject variability, both across individuals and within the same individual, on BCI performance. For example, stress, arousal, motivation, and fatigue can all affect the electroencephalogram (EEG) signals used by a BCI, which in turn impacts performance. Overcoming the impact of such user variability on BCI performance is an impending and inevitable challenge for routine applications of BCIs in the real world. To systematically explore the factors affecting BCI performance, this study embeds a Steady-State Visually Evoked Potential (SSVEP) based BCI into a "game with a purpose" (GWAP) to obtain data over significant lengths of time, under both high- and low-stress conditions. Ten healthy volunteers played a GWAP that resembles popular match-three games, such as Jewel Quest, Zoo Boom, or Candy Crush. We recorded the target search time, target search accuracy, and EEG signals during gameplay to investigate the impacts of stress on EEG signals and BCI performance. We used Canonical Correlation Analysis (CCA) to determine whether the subject had found and attended to the correct target. The experimental results show that SSVEP target-classification accuracy is reduced by stress. We also found a negative correlation between EEG spectra and the SNR of EEG in the frontal and occipital regions during gameplay, with a larger negative correlation for the high-stress conditions. Furthermore, CCA also showed that when the EEG alpha and theta power increased, the search accuracy decreased, and the spectral amplitude drop was more evident under the high-stress situation. These results provide new, valuable insights into research on how to improve the robustness of BCIs in real-world applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1771-1780
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • Brain computer interface (BCI)
  • steady state visually evoked potentials (SSVEP)
  • electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • stress

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