For many years, neuroscience was a heavily deterministic field. The brain you were born with was thought to be the brain you were stuck with for life. With the emergence of the concept of neuroplasticity, it is now understood that this is not black and white. Brains can grow and transform, adapt to new circumstances, and even rebuild itself after an accident.
Neuroplasticity is defined as the capacity of the brain to develop and change throughout life. The prefix neuro- means nerve cell, or neuron, and -plastic refers to our brain’s capacity to reorganize itself. Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain is malleable in terms of structure, allowing opportunities for new growth and connections. As structure changes, so does function.
Ordinary examples of neuroplasticity include things like learning a new language, or how to play a musical instrument.
Although neuroplasticity has only just been embraced as a concept in neuroscience in the last 50 years, it is now a buzzword among high-end athletes, performance oriented business people, and parents of children with ADD. It is now more widely understood that we can change our brains by engaging processes that stimulate neuroplasticity, such as neurofeedback.
This means that people with brain damage have a hope of recovery as the brain reorganizes and creates new synaptic connections around damaged areas. It means that we can heal mental and physical disabilities by enlisting the patient’s own brain in the healing process. It means that age related mental decline need not be a downward spiral. It even means things like pain and physical ailments can be ameliorated or eliminated by addressing the master control panel in the brain.
No modern advancement in the field of mental health shows such promise for rapid transformation of neurological disorders as neurofeedback.
How Does Neurofeedback Relate to Neuroplasticity?
Neurofeedback is a direct method to access the neuroplasticity of the brain. First, an EEG brain map is made of the patient’s brain, measuring and graphically representing brainwave abnormalities in various regions. Neurofeedback protocols then specifically address these abnormalities by allowing the patient to regulate their own brain waves in response to positive or negative feedback visual and auditory feedback.
What is happening on a cellular level is that energy is being shunted away from certain neurological pathways representing illness, and directed towards new ones that bring about health. New axons and dendrites (the connections between neurons) are forming as neurofeedback participants alter their own brainwaves. A recent study showed that alterations in the white matter of the brain from neurofeedback could be observed after only an hour training session.
Over time, as brainwaves normalize, neurological or psycho-emotional disorders also resolve. This neuro-hack is starting to change the field of neuroscience as more research is done on it’s efficacy. Much more research needs to be done, but there is significant evidence showing neurofeedback to be a highly effective neurological intervention with significant effects on the plasticity of the brain.