What is the difference between biofeedback and neurofeedback?

31527-36-modelBy Sharon Niv, Ph.D.

Neurofeedback is a therapeutic approach facilitated by Brain Computer Interface. The simple answer is, neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback that is specialized for brain activity. Biofeedback is a method by which individuals receive feedback regarding a measure of their physiology, and learn to recognize how it feels to produce that physiological response by associating their body’s senstation with the feedback they receive. For example, a heart rate biofeedback device may provide a green light to indicate reduced pulse and a red light to indicate higher pulse. With practice, individuals learn to produce the physiological response that is associated with the green light.

So how does this work for neurofeedback?

There are different ways to measure brain activation, but the most common one for neurofeedback is electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures electrical activity produced by firing neurons from the surface of the skull. This method is noninvasive, inexpensive, and not dangerous, and hence has been used to experiment with feedback. EEG measures brain wave frequencies that typically span from 1-100 Hz. These can break down into Delta waves (1-4 Hz), which are typical of slow wave sleep, Theta waves (4-8 Hz), which are typical of very deep relaxation, light sleep, and pre-sleep states, Alpha waves (8-13 Hz), typical of relaxation, meditation, and eyes-closed states, Beta waves (13-30 Hz), typical of wakefulness and concentration, and Gamma waves (30-100 Hz), typical of intense concentration and information consolidation among other functions.

One example of how neurofeedback  might work is the following: children with ADHD frequently produce lower levels of Beta waves in their frontal cortex, corresponding to their reduced ability to pay attention. An EEG electrode may be placed on the child’s forehead as he plays a video game with his mind. The more he succeeds in producing Beta waves, the faster his video rocket ship flies, and the more practice this child has at producing frontal Beta waves. This is an intrinsic method of addressing maladaptive brain activity, and has been shown to produce long term improvements in concentration and attention. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently announced the neurofeedback of this sort is a “Best Practice” treatment for ADHD. As more scientific attention turns to non-pharmacological approaches to psychology and neurology, we can anticipate a popularity rise for neurofeedback approaches.

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