Brain–computer interfaces (BCIs) have attracted much attention recently, triggered by new scientific progress in understanding brain function and by impressive applications. The aim of this review is to give an overview of the various steps in the BCI cycle, i.e., the loop from the measurement of brain activity, classification of data, feedback to the subject and the effect of feedback on brain activity. In this article we will review the critical steps of the BCI cycle, the present issues and state-of-the-art results. Moreover, we will develop a vision on how recently obtained results may contribute to new insights in neurocognition and, in particular, in the neural representation of perceived stimuli, intended actions and emotions. Now is the right time to explore what can be gained by embracing real-time, online BCI and by adding it to the set of experimental tools already available to the cognitive neuroscientist. We close by pointing out some unresolved issues and present our view on how BCI could become an important new tool for probing human cognition.