טכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל
הטכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל - בית הספר ללימודי מוסמכים  
Ph.D Thesis
Ph.D StudentFarraj Nehai
SubjectThe Role of Upper Alpha Oscillations in Mental Rotation
of Cubic-Shapes and Molecular Structures
DepartmentDepartment of Education in Science and Technology
Supervisor Professor Miriam Reiner
Full Thesis textFull thesis text - English Version


Abstract

Humans use mental rotation (MR) excessively in everyday life. MR is especially crucial in science learning. For instance, understanding docking positions of molecules involves MR. The aim of the current research is to test the role of brain oscillations in MR, specifically the role of upper alpha in enhancing the speed of correct mental rotation.

Human brain function is associated with neuronal oscillatory activity in different frequencies, such as alpha (8-13 Hz). According to the inhibition timing hypothesis (Wolfgang Klimesch, Sauseng, & Hanslmayr, 2007), alpha oscillations’ state of synchrony (synchronization and desynchronization) is correlated with cognitive Function. High amplitude of upper alpha (UA) (10-13Hz) oscillation has been shown to contribute to MR. MR is a cognitive skill of rotating objects mentally to better understand their orientation. As the angle of rotation grows larger, more time is needed for participants to perform MR. Research shows that neurofeedback (NF) methods can be used for increasing the intensity of UA and that UA is correlated with improved MR performance. Our goal here is to identify the role of UA oscillations in MR, particularly regarding understanding molecular spatial structure.  

To meet this objective, two main research questions were addressed: (1) What is the impact of neurofeedback training on UA amplitude? (2) what is the effect of elevated UA on the MR of cube objects and of molecules? The research population included 94 healthy students, between 18-35 years of age, from different departments at the Technion- Israel institute of technology. Participants were divided into three experimental groups: two experimental groups titled NF1 (N=36) and NF2 (N= 25 ) that underwent neurofeedback training (NFT), and a control group (N=32) that did not participate in NFT but instead answered the researcher's questions. 

The Mitsar-EEG-202 system and WinEEG software were used for recording brain electroencephalography (EEG) signals and for calculating upper alpha amplitude before and after the interventions. Eventide software was used for neurofeedback training. In order to detect the subjects’ MR abilities, two mental rotation tasks (MRT) were used. The classic MR task used by Shepard and Metzler (R. N. Shepard & Metzler, 1971b) with cube stimuli, and another MR test designed for this study, with ball-and-stick molecular models.

Our findings show that neurofeedback training resulted in increased upper alpha amplitude in both experimental groups. Along with this, the subjects' performances in both MRT were better than the control. Subjects who receive NFT had shorter response times during the MRT than those who did not receive training.

This study contributes to our understanding of the role of alpha in MR in general, and the MR of molecules. Furthermore, considering our results we would like to suggest applying the same neurofeedback training in the left parietal area for examining its role in the MR of molecules as well. Furthermore, cognitive achievements under neurofeedback training promote the enhancement of other cognitive abilities in healthy subjects; such as problem solving in mathematics, reading comprehension skills, analyzing and evaluating scientific problems.