Our brain activity is reflected in the EEG, a map of the electrical activity of the brain. Different brain wave patterns correspond to different mental states – there are different patterns for sleep and wakening, for focused concentration and problem-solving, compared to drifting off and day-dreaming, for impulsive hyperactive states, versus calm, reflective states. Through neurotransmitters and neurohormones, every system in the body can be influenced by the brain.
Neurofeedback, or EEG Biofeedback, is an activity that retrains the central nervous system’s activity. It is based on Thorndike’s Law of Effect: when a behaviour is rewarded positively, the chances that that behaviour will be repeated, increase.
We use internal neurofeedback in everyday life, for instance when we learn to ride a bicycle, hit a ball, or learn a dance-step. Sensory information is sent back to our brain via our nerves, relating whether the action we have performed was the correct one. When our senses relay that it was not quite right, our brains adjust our action plan faster than we can consciously think about it, and we modify our actions accordingly.
How does Neurofeedback work?
Using neurofeedback, an individual can be trained to produce a mental state that is calm, relaxed, reflective, alert and focused, by controlling brain wave patterns at will.
Advanced electronics now allow us to convert EEG patterns into images on a computer screen. The practitioner places electrodes on the surface of the participant’s scalp using a conductive paste, which allow the instruments to monitor the person’s brainwaves in real-time. As the client alters his own mental state, it changes the EEG pattern, and that changes the computer display. Thus, when the client produces the brainwaves for the desired state of mind, it activates animation and sound on a computer screen, rewarding the brain with visual and sound input. As the brain will always work for sensory information, it recognizes that making particular brainwaves leads to a reward. By repeating this process, the individual learns what the desired state of mind feels like. With this experience and with some practice, it allows him to attain that mental state at will – he learns to self-regulate states of mind, rather than relying on external stimuli to achieve the desired state of mind.
A closely related therapy is Biofeedback, where the computer screen is activated when the client attains a calm bodily state, as measured and reflected in muscle tension, heart rate, blood pressure and skin temperature.
Neuro- and Biofeedback sessions are around 45 minutes long ; the number of sessions required to retrain the brain and body to attain the desired state for peak performance varies.
What is Neuro- and Biofeedback useful for?
Neurofeedback can be useful to ameliorate the symptoms in cases of:
- Attention deficit
- Movement disorders
- Muscle tension
- Closed head injury
amongst other conditions. It can also be used to condition brainwave patterns that allow a person to move towards optimal performance for work, academic, athletic or artistic activities.