Neurofeedback is an approach where researchers observe participants' brainwaves as they perform actions. It provides immediate feedback
In the study, participants received positive reinforcement when they achieved the right mental state. The results showed that encouraging feedback strengthened the activity in the associated brain region.
For the experiment, the participants were asked to perform a motor imagery task. One group was shown real-time brain training, while the other was shown placebo neurofeedback.
The IDOR-led team found that participants who received real-time neurofeedback had strengthened the neural network controlling the body's movements. Based on their findings, the researchers believed that neurofeedback-based brain training techniques might help develop better treatments for Parkinson's disease and stroke. (Related: Brain training app claims to improve concentration, but is it better than proper diet and an active lifestyle?)
The researchers used neurofeedback to increase brain activity in healthy adults. In the study, they asked 36 adults to picture moving their right hand -- while keeping it still -- for 30 minutes.
Over half of the participants were shown a real-time display of them activating the correct parts of their brain. The other group got false readings, which served as a placebo.
The research team scanned the neural networks of the participants immediately before and after each session. This allowed the team to investigate the effects of neurofeedback on brain wiring and communication."
Their analyses showed that participants who witnessed accurate real-time data displayed increased brainwave activity in their corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is the major cerebral bridge between the left and right sides of the brain.
The researchers also discovered that neurofeedback improved the brain's “default mode network.” This network comprises brain regions that display low activity during activities that require concentration but become more active during waking periods that don't involve any mental exercise.
Depression, Parkinson's disease, and stroke can often damage the default mode network.
Conversely, meditation, and similar therapies have been shown to affect activity in the network. The treatments appear to improve general well-being in part by working through the default mode network.
In the IDOR-led study, the improvements associated with the default mode network didn't appear in the brain scans of the placebo group. Seeing the false readings didn't reinforce the activity in the brain regions.
“We knew that the brain has an amazing ability to adapt itself, but we were not sure that we could observe these changes so quickly,” explained IDOR researcher Dr. Theo Marins, a co-author of the study. “[An] understanding of how we can impact on brain wiring and functioning is the key to treat neurological disorders.”
Proponents of neurofeedback believe that it offers a way to regulate malfunctioning parts of the brain. It may help patients with chronic pain and depression gain control over their condition.
“We showed that the neurofeedback can be considered a powerful tool to induce brain changes at record speed,” explained study leader Fernanda Moll. “Now, our goal is to develop new studies to test whether patients with neurological disorders can also benefit from it.”