As the word gradually gets out about this amazing therapy, neurofeedback is increasingly the subject of new and larger scientific studies. We can only hope this powerful therapy will become more widely adopted by conventional medicine, allowing more patients to make improvements in a wide variety of neurological as well as mental health disorders.
This month there are two important new developments- a study on performance enhancement, and one that deals with emotional processing.
Neurofeedback Reduces Stress, Enhances Performance under Difficult Conditions
When the Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science publishes a study, the world sits up and takes notice.
The current SEAS faculty include 27 members of the National Academy of Engineering and one Nobel Laureate in a faculty size of 173. In all, the faculty and alumni of Columbia Engineering have won 10 Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine, and economics.
This recent study on the effects of neurofeedback was entitled “Regulation of arousal via online neurofeedback improves human performance in a demanding sensory-motor task”. The study was based on the idea that humans make better decisions and perform better at demanding sensory motor tasks when they have control over the arousal state of their sympathetic nervous system.
Researcher’s used real-time fMRI feedback to help participants in the study to regulate their arousal state during virtual reality aerial navigation tasks using a flight simulator.
The neurofeedback, in the form of a synthetic heartbeat the participants heard as louder when more aroused (as decoded by the fMRI), allowed the subjects to fly their virtual plane further and more precisely. Participants’ task performance was increased by around 20 percent!
The researchers are currently studying how neurofeedback can be used to regulate arousal in PTSD patients.
Neurofeedback Allows Study Participants to Downregulate their Amygdala
The amygdala is a structure in the brain that is partially responsible for emotional regulation, especially when it relates to fear, trauma, anger and rage. Part of the limbic system, the amygdala can be seen as an internal alarm system that due to past traumatic events can become hyper-aroused, leading to clinical states of anxiety or hypervigilance.
In this study, “Training emotion regulation through real-time fMRI neurofeedback of amygdala activity”, researchers showed that participants could learn to downregulate arousal levels in the amygdala during a task involving emotional processing.
In a previous study by the same researchers a new imaging tool for interpreting EEG brain scans was used to train 42 participants to reduce their amygdala activity. This is important because fMRI is a relatively expensive and less accessible technology- the use of EEG in studying the inner reaches of the brain could lead to a surge in new research.
Read the original study