A Brief History of Neurofeedback

Jan 2nd 2018 
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Neurofeedback is a non-invasive, evidence based form of therapy that retrains the brain waves, and has been found to be helpful in treating various neurological disorders including epilepsy, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, and traumatic brain injury. It uses real time feedback from Electroencephalography monitoring to measure the electric impulses in the brain, and with regular training it can teach the brain to regulate itself better.

The origins of neurofeedback are fascinating, and researchers have been studying its effects for decades.

In the 1920’s, German psychiatrist Hans Berger created the first EEG device by attaching electrodes to the human head and measuring the electric currents produced.

Neurofeedback, i.e., the technique of altering brain activity and its effects, was pioneered in the late 1950s and 1960s by two researchers: Dr. Joseph Kamiya at the University of Chicago and Dr. Barry Sterman at UCLA.

Dr. Kamiya found that using a simple reward system people could control their brain waves. He trained people to achieve an alpha state by rewarding them with the sound of a bell. This was the first time real time feedback was given to humans based on their EEG monitoring - the first instance of neurofeedback training. In 1968, Dr. Kamiya published a paper with his findings in Psychology Today.

During the same period, Dr. Sterman found that cats in his lab could be trained to increase their brain waves at a certain frequency when rewarded with food. This frequency, which Dr. Sterman called Sensorimotor Rhythm (SMR), was between 12 and 15 Hz and is also known as Lo-Beta.

A few years later, Dr. Sterman was doing an experiment for NASA on whether rocket fuel caused seizures and he used the same cats as experiment subjects. During this study he found (to his surprise) that the cats who had undergone SMR training were significantly less likely to experience seizures than other cats. Dr. Sterman then applied this technique to humans suffering from epilepsy, where he found that 60% of the subjects were able to reduce their epileptic seizures by 20-100%, and that the results were long lasting.

In the 1970’s, Dr. Joel Lubar first began to run controlled studies applying neurofeedback training to children, adolescents, and adults to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Since then, a significant body of research on the efficacy of neurofeedback therapy for the treatment of ADHD has emerged, with many studies showing significant and long-term improvements after neurofeedback treatment.

http://ebmh.bmj.com/content/13/1/21
  • Kamiya, J. (1971). "Operant Control of the EEG Alpha Rhythm and Some of its Reported Effects on Consciousness". Biofeedback and Self-Control: an Aldine Reader on the Regulation of Bodily Processes and Consciousness.
  • Sterman, M.B.; Friar, L. (1972). "Suppression of seizures in an epileptic following sensorimotor EEG feedback training". Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 33 (1): 89–95. doi:10.1016/0013-4694(72)90028-4. PMID 4113278.
  • Sterman, M.B. (2000). "Basic concepts and clinical findings in the treatment of seizure disorders with EEG operant conditioning". Clin Electroencephalogr. 31 (1): 45–55. doi:10.1177/155005940003100111. PMID 10638352.