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Operant conditioning to retrain the human brain

Filed in - Training - Science

An interesting story about neurofeedback (formerly "biofeedback") making a comeback in therapeutic settings. Now much more sophisticated, the therapy involves asking patients to essentially play a video game whose controls are the patient's own brain waves:

In a typical neurofeedback session, the therapist sticks small sensors to various spots around the head and maps out the amplitude of the electrical waves on a laptop monitor. Peaks and valleys in the alpha, beta, or theta waves are already associated with certain disorders, so therapists often know what to look for.

Meanwhile, the patient watches a second monitor that presents any number of visual scenarios, from a swimming dolphin to stacks of jumping crickets. A soft beep reinforces the visual reward with audio stimulus.

Then comes the strange part. With no joystick, no pedals, nothing to hit or smash, the patient is asked to keep the dolphin swimming, stack up the crickets faster, encourage a little mouth to eat up dots a la Pac-Man. Furrowing your brow and grunting doesn't help. The therapy only rewards balanced, smooth brainwaves. Eventually — sometimes with surprising speed — the brain gets it. A calm, steady focus takes over, gradually "re-wiring" the brain (in Morse's term) so thoroughly that the effects last after the session is over.

Read the full store: Training brainwaves to comb down, with a mirror