Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Validating the Efficacy of Neurofeedback for Optimising Performance

Reviewer: Liesel Deppe

Reference: Gruzelier, John., Egner, Tobias and Vernon, David. Validating the Efficacy of Neurofeedback for Optimising Performance. Found in Progress in Brain Research, Volume 159, 2006.

Summary: As the title suggests, these researches pursued further research on the question of neurofeedback and how effective it is. Their studies looked at validating SMR (sensorimotor rhythm), beta and alpha-theta protocols for improving attention, memory, mood, music and dance performance in healthy people. A lot of their research was based upon the work of Sterman and Pfurtscheller, trying to see if they could obtain the same or similar results.

In the first study they focused on the training of activity in the 12-14 Hz range (in the same range as the SMR), and the adjacent beta band of 15-20 Hz. The benefit of training in this area could be applied to children with ADHD, who generally produce low levels of beta. The low levels of beta have a detrimental effect these children’s ability to focus and concentrate. Apparently, previous studies, although deemed important by the current authors, had not confirmed a direct association between the ability to learn and enhance the desired frequency band and a consequent improvement in behaviour and cognition.

In the second study, the researchers successfully demonstrated that alpha-theta training enhanced peak performance. It involved increasing the ratio between theta (4-8 Hz) and alpha (8-12Hz) activity. This study was divided into several sub-studies. The first involved conservatory students who were randomly assigned to three groups: (1) a mixed course of beta 1/ SMR and alpha-theta training, (2) no-training control group, and (3) neurofeedback group combined with mental skills training and aerobics. Improvements were found only the first group (neurofeedback only), but not in the others. They improved mostly in quality, musicality and creativity. Somehow the researchers were able to attribute these improvements to alpha-theta training only, not to the beta 1 or SMR training.
The second substudy, but there were six groups: (1) alpha-theta, (2) SMR training, (3) beta 1 neurofeedback training, (4) physical exercise, (5) mental skills training, (6) Alexander Technique. Again only the first group displayed significant changes, while the others showed no improvements. This seems to indicate that alpha-theta training led to improvements in creative and artistic expressions, as opposed to technical skills.

The third sub-study involved applying the same research to competitive dance performance, with the same results.

Response: I was mostly interested in the second study relating to performance anxiety in musicians. Interestingly, all six groups of the second substudy showed and improvement. Reduction in pre-performance anxiety. This seems to indicate that exercise, Alexander technique, or perhaps even little rituals we have before a performance, might be effective in reducing performance anxiety to begin with. However, the key idea seems to be that, although reducing performance anxiety, it may not necessarily have an effect on the actual. What the researchers found, seems to indicate that increasing the alpha-theta ratio has a beneficial effect on the quality of the performance. Reducing stress only is simply not enough. What still needs to done, though, is to determine what role an individual’s personality might play in all of this. Taking personality into account, may give a therapist a more effective way to plan a training program, tailored to the individual. Also, it would be beneficial to do more such studies in other parts of the world, to see whether cultural differences and expectations might alter the results somewhat. During these studies, the subjects received only 10 sessions of training. I hope that with longer training, these results would be confirmed, as this seems to be a non-drug solution to performance

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