What Is Neurofeedback?
Like other forms of biofeedback, NFT uses monitoring devices to provide moment-to-moment information to an individual on the state of their physiological functioning. The characteristic that distinguishes NFT from other biofeedback is a focus on the central nervous system and the brain. Neurofeedback training (NFT) has its foundations in basic and applied neuroscience as well as data-based clinical practice. It takes into account behavioral, cognitive, and subjective aspects as well as brain activity.
NFT is preceded by an objective assessment of brain activity and psychological status. During training, sensors are placed on the scalp and then connected to sensitive electronics and computer software that detect, amplify, and record specific brain activity. Resulting information is fed back to the trainee virtually instantaneously with the conceptual understanding that changes in the feedback signal indicate whether or not the trainee’s brain activity is within the designated range. Based on this feedback, various principles of learning, and practitioner guidance, changes in brain patterns occur and are associated with positive changes in physical, emotional, and cognitive states. Often the trainee is not consciously aware of the mechanisms by which such changes are accomplished although people routinely acquire a “felt sense” of these positive changes and often are able to access these states outside the feedback session.
NFT does not involve either surgery or medication and is neither painful nor embarassing. When provided by a licensed professional with appropriate training, generally trainees do not experience negative side-effects. Typically trainees find NFT to be an interesting experience. Neurofeedback operates at a brain functional level and transcends the need to classify using existing diagnostic categories. It modulates the brain activity at the level of the neuronal dynamics of excitation and inhibition which underly the characteristic effects that are reported.
Research demonstrates that neurofeedback is an effective intervention for ADHD and Epilepsy. Ongoing research is investigating the effectiveness of neurofeedback for other disorders such as Autism, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, substance abuse, TBI and other pain disorders, and is promising.
Being a self-regulation method, NFT differs from other accepted research-consistent neuro-modulatory approaches such as audio-visual entrainment (AVE) and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) that provoke an automatic brain response by presenting a specific signal. Nor is NFT based on deliberate changes in breathing patterns such as respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) that can result in changes in brain waves. At a neuronal level, NFT teaches the brain to modulate excitatory and inhibitory patterns of specific neuronal assemblies and pathways based upon the details of the sensor placement and the feedback algorithms used thereby increasing flexibility and self-regulation of relaxation and activation patterns.
The International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (see www.isnr.org) is the largest group of licensed professionals involved in the practice, teaching, and research of NFT. Some members of ISNR have sought and received certification by the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (see www.bcia.org). Members of ISNR subscribe to a code of ethics providing an added measure of accountability to the standards of their profession. Additionally, ISNR is committed to supporting new developments by publishing a professional journal and newsmagazine, by producing a well-attended annual conference, and by encouraging large studies of NFT through the ISNR Research Foundation.
This definition was ratified by the ISNR Board of Directors on January 10, 2009 and edited on June 11, 2010
Definition of Biofeedback
Biofeedback is a process that enables an individual to learn how to change physiological activity for the purposes of improving health and performance. Precise instruments measure physiological activity such as brainwaves, heart function, breathing, muscle activity, and skin temperature. These instruments rapidly and accurately “feed back” information to the user. The presentation of this information — often in conjunction with changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior — supports desired physiological changes. Over time, these changes can endure without continued use of an instrument.
This definition was ratified by the Task Force on Nomenclature in 2008
Read a peer-reviewed article, written by D. Corydon Hammond in 2011, entitled "What is Neurofeedback - An Update".
An introduction to neurofeedback equipment and process
Neurofeedback involves several steps and pieces of equipment, including hardware, software, and feedback.
1a. Electrodes or Sensors
Sensors, such as the example above, are stuck to the scalp using a conductive paste. Often, they are referred to as “electrodes” but in most forms of neurofeedback, no current is sent into the brain. Instead, the sensors receive cortical activity and send it through an amplifier to the computer.
1b. A cap with multiple electrodes
In some cases, for assessments or forms of neurofeedback where a lot of sensors are used, a cap with electrodes placed in it may be used to ensure the proper placement of the sensors. The system used is usually the international 10-20 System.
There are lots of amplifiers out there, so the one your neurofeedback provider uses might be similar to this one, or it might look very different, but regardless of the type of amplifier used, the purpose of it is the same:
The box receives the signals from the sensors and amplifies them so that the computer can analyze and display them. It will connect to both the sensors and the computer via either a cord or a wireless connection.
3. Computer Software
Like the amplifiers, there is a wide variety of software available to your neurofeedback provider. The software is responsible for 3 basic things:
- Trace the EEG onto a graph so that the neurofeedback provider can see it,
- Allowing the provider to input a desired condition (called a threshold) or goal,
- Control an auditory and visual display which gives you information about what and how your brain is functioning.
4. Repetition Makes A Habit
As the electrical patterns are repeated, they become a habit for the brain, so the pattern holds for longer periods of time. After a while, the feedback is no longer needed for the brain to repeat the state it was taught.
5. Brain Change
Because the feedback you are getting is happening almost as soon as your brain produces the signal, your brain will repeat patterns that produce the reward (usually a sound and/or video game working). If it repeats it enough, it learns the pattern and the change becomes long lasting.