Brainwave Training: A Potential Approach to Treating Mental Disorders?

By Helen Holmes on October 25, 2012

New research shows brainwave training boosts cognitive control and reduces mind wandering during attention tasks.

In a groundbreaking study, Canadian scientists found that training the alpha rhythm, a well-known brainwave in humans, boosts the brain network responsible for cognitive control. The training called neurofeedback opens up the possibility of restoring brain functions in mental disorders.

What happens during a neurofeedback?

During a neurofeedback session, users learn to control their own brain activities. The training involves the use of a computer that records brainwaves through the surface sensors on the scalp, known as electroencephalogram (EEG). The computer then processes and shows the person’s brain activity real-time, displaying it moment by moment during a training game on the computer. The real-time feedback setup allows users to reproduce various brain states under physiologically-normal conditions.

According to the researchers, this promises an innovative way to create brain changes in a non-invasive way. The concept was based from the natural ability of the brain that enables it to reorganise itself after continual training that leads to adjustments down to initiating its own activities.

Training the alpha rhythm affects a major brain network that control brain functions. Past studies show that dysfunction of this network is linked to a range of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Is it a viable approach to treating brain disorders?

Researchers from the Western University and the Lawson Health Research Institute found that just a 30-minute neurofeedback session already produces functional changes in the cognitive network.

The team was the first to provide answers to the long-standing issue on whether or not neurofeedback training could trigger any brain changes at all. Using an MRI scan, the researchers were able to take a closer look at how the brain behaved during the training. They saw an increase in the metabolic coupling and a reduction in mind wandering during an attention task.

"Compared to the lack of significant findings in the control group that received training with false feedback, our findings are unambiguously supportive of a direct and plastic impact of neurofeedback on a central cognitive-control network, suggesting a promising basis for its use to treat cognitive disorders”, said Dr Ruth Lanius, senior author, and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

The researchers hope that more research will be done to fully evaluate the neurofeedback training as a potentially revolutionary approach to treating various brain disorders, particularly those that affect cognition.

Currently, they are conducting a study on whether the training could also benefit patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.


Source of this article:

Brainwave training boosts network for cognitive control and affects mind-wandering, University of Western Ontario


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