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Description: Using even limited brain wave recording equipment such as externally applied recording electrodes rather than expensive brain scanning devices, it is possible to detect and describe patterns of brain wave activity and to distinguish between brain wave patterns associated with, say, a lack of attention (in ADHD) as compared to between brain wave patterns associated with focused attention. Given that we can do tis what might we do WITH this ability? It would likely not be precise or consistent enough to be used diagnostically. However, what if we could set things up so that we could show people in real time what their brainwave patterns looked like (e.g., focused or unfocused). Could we use that information as a form of biofeedback and let people practice trying to shift their brainwave patterns into a more focused mode, for example? Biofeedback has been used to help people lower their heart rates, their blood pressure, and adjust other body reactions to positive effect. What if we could train people to lower their anxious brainwave patters or their depressed brain wave patterns? NO drugs would be involved so what do you think? Worth a try? Well and importantly, how would we know if it was working? Think about what research design requirements would be involved in looking into such neurofeedback approaches. What ethical (practice) issues would need to be considered? Once you have your thoughts on this sorted read the article linked below to find out about the current state of research and practice in the neurofeedback domain.

Source: Can Monitoring Brain Waves Boost Mental Health? David Dodge, The New York Times.

Date: January 12, 2022

Image by geralt from Pixabay

Article Link:

There is no argument that we can see and track patterns of brainwave activity and note correlations between them and certain, conditions or experiences. What is not clear is whether neurofeedback actually changes patterns of brainwave activity AND whether doing so actually in responsible for what some claim is a related reduction in negative feeling or symptoms.  I am sure you have heard the term placebo in the past but how clear are you on just what a placebo is and just how it works. There was an episode of the old TV show MASH where the mobile surgical hospital ran out of morphine. The doctors conspired quietly to make up some sugar pills which they then prescribed as a “new powerful pain medication.” The results in the show and in research into similar situations was that many patients experienced significant management of their pain when on the placebo medication. It was not that the placebo simply fooled people into lower levels of pain perception but, rather, that believing they had received a pain medication produced neurological responses similar to or the same as morphine would have produced. The deal is that placebo effects are ‘real’ even when the placebos themselves are ‘not real.’ Before seeking out and paying for neurofeedback treatment and before committing money to such treatments we might need a bit more research using placebos and double-blind designs (where neither the client OR their therapist knows if they are getting the real neurofeedback or placebo (or random) feedback. The meta-analytic research discussed in the article suggests more research IS needed.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is neurofeedback?
  2. How is neurofeedback related to biofeedback?
  3. What sorts of research (and research designs) are needed if we are to get to a place where we can fully, properly, and ethically discuss and construct practice and payment/insurance guidelines and policies regarding neurofeedback?

References (Read Further):

Van Doren, J., Arns, M., Heinrich, H., Vollebregt, M. A., Strehl, U., & Loo, S. K. (2019). Sustained effects of neurofeedback in ADHD: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 28(3), 293-305. Link

Dudek, E., & Dodell-Feder, D. (2020). The efficacy of real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback for psychiatric illness: A meta-analysis of brain and behavioral outcomes. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. Link

What studies have been conducted about biofeedback, neurofeedback, and neurotherapy? Link

Hammond, D. C. (2007). What is neurofeedback?. Journal of neurotherapy, 10(4), 25-36. Link

Hammond, D. C. (2011). What is neurofeedback: An update. Journal of Neurotherapy, 15(4), 305-336. Link

Gruzelier, J., Egner, T., & Vernon, D. (2006). Validating the efficacy of neurofeedback for optimising performance. Progress in brain research, 159, 421-431. Link

Sitaram, R., Ros, T., Stoeckel, L., Haller, S., Scharnowski, F., Lewis-Peacock, J., … & Sulzer, J. (2017). Closed-loop brain training: the science of neurofeedback. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 18(2), 86-100. Link

Thibault, R. T., Lifshitz, M., & Raz, A. (2017). Neurofeedback or neuroplacebo?. Brain, 140(4), 862-864. Link

Micoulaud-Franchi, J. A., & Fovet, T. (2018). A framework for disentangling the hyperbolic truth of neurofeedback: Comment on Thibault and Raz (2017). Link

Thibault, R. T., Lifshitz, M., & Raz, A. (2018). The climate of neurofeedback: scientific rigour and the perils of ideology. Brain, 141(2), e11-e11. Link

Micoulaud-Franchi, J. A., Fovet, T., Thibault, R. T., & Raz, A. (2018). Two part correspondence: A framework for disentangling the hyperbolic truth of neurofeedback; A Consensus Framework for Neurofeedback Research. Link