Researchers at Washington University in St Louis, US, have shown that electrocorticography can allow people to control a cursor on a computer screen through thoughts about vowel sounds alone.

For the study, four students undergoing electrocorticograph implantation were asked to think about four different units of speech known as phonemes.

Students thought about four different phonemes — ‘oo’, ‘ah’, ‘ee’ and ‘eh’. Their brain signals were recorded and these were able to move the cursor on the computer screen.

Electrocorticography works by tapping directly into the brain’s cortex, the outermost layer of the brain, and involves implanting a plastic pad containing a number of electrodes under the skull.

The technique could lead to better “brain-computer interfaces” for the disabled, researchers noted.