My In2ScienceUK placement at the UCL Institute of Neurology in Queen Square showed me a real different side of Neuroscience that I had witnessed, compared to that to do with the actual brain cells, imaging and mapping. The neuroscience at the TMS labs I had worked in was focused on the movement planning in the brain, and how a person is affected by another person’s movements via their resources – thus asking the overall question: Does the representation of movements of others compete for resources with the representations of our own movements?
This theory linked well with the idea of mirror neurons in the brain – so we wanted to experiment to test the hypothesis. My awesome supervisor, Leonie Oostwoud Wijdenes, and I held an experiment in order to this out by using a setup which they had built themselves.
We had 16 pairs of participants take part in the experiment, by giving them a magnetic tracker which was taped onto their index finger, and they were told to stand in front of a set up with a plastic screen underneath and a mirror that faced a computer on top – which displayed a reverse image, allowing them to see the image in mirror whilst standing – also preventing them from seeing their hands whilst doing the movement. They then calibrated their finger on the screen and were told that there were 2 conditions they had to take part in in a target game: All beeps came from one speaker, so only one participant had to hit the target and the first two beeps came from both speakers and only the 3rd and 4th came from one speaker randomly – so both participants would randomly reach to hit the target. The target would also randomly jump, which threw off a lot of participants.
The results shown indicate that when the participants performed movements together, the response time was slower – although the overall movement was quicker. This is because the participants had longer to figure out where to move exactly and make a movement plan in Condition 1, whereas in Condition 2, they have a limited amount of time because they have to also distinguish whether it is their turn or not.
To conclude, this experiment and many others held by Leonie and those at the TMS Labs have helped to contribute and test out the theories to do with movement planning – which can eventually contribute to other developments within medical research and the science of mechanisms/robotics altogether – displaying that neuroscience has many different branching areas to be explored and tested.