History of Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback started in the 1960's with multiple lines of parallel research. These include the work of Barry Sterman at UCLA who showed that cats could be trained to create 11-19 Hz brainwaves over the sensory-motor cortex if they were rewarded when an EEG machine detected that activity. He replicated his work in monkeys and explored the anatomical underpinnings. When he discovered that his previously trained cats were more resistant to seizures, Sterman started training humans to see if they could produce what he called SMR (Sensorimotor rhythm which is 12-15 Hz in humans), publishing his initial case of curing seizures in 1972. Recognizing that the thalamic calming effect of SMR also could result in behavioral calming, Joel Lubar at the University of Tennessee studied the application of this type of training on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). He published this work in multiple articles through the 70's and 80's.

Joe Kamiya's work in the 60's showed people could identify by feeling when their brains were creating the specific alpha frequency and could learn with practice to create it at will. This entered the popular literature as public interest arose about the connection of such training with meditative states. Eugene Peniston studied such "deep state" work in the early 90's, publishing his successful treatment of chronic alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam veterans using alpha/theta training. Bill Scott combined the SMR and alpha/theta protocols to successfully treat polysubstance abuse. His study of 121 subjects was published in 2005.

During the 90's Neils Birbaumer at the University of Tübingen published work on changing the slow cortical potential or SCP training. His work was laster extended from treatment for seizures to treatment for ADD.

Sue and Siegfried Othmer also pursued training outside of the traditional brainwave bands of alpha, beta, theta, etc. in what is known as infralow training. Following a clinically directed path, they focused on reduction of arousal in diverse clinical populations finding lower and lower target frequencies to be helpful. Their target range was 1.5 Hz in 2005, and by employing more sophisticated EEG amplifiers have moved this target down to 0.05 Hz by 2006, and to 0.001 Hz soon thereafter. In 2010, they were targeting to 0.0001 Hz.

QEEG analysis has developed in parallel with the development of neurofeedback. E. Roy John at NYU pioneered the field of Neurometrics in the late 70's, creating a database of "normal" EEG measures for comparison to an individual being examined. Some of these measures such as EEG power, coherence, and symmetry, started to become targets for treatment as research suggested correlations between particular symptoms and particular EEG patterns. Jonathan Walker has used such techniques for treating seizures (2008), PTSD (2009), and enuresis (2012).

Kirtley Thornton in working with learning disabilities, traumatic brain injury, and normal subjects created the coordinated allocation of resources (CAR) model for analyzing QEEG patterns (2009). Using these methods he has demonstrated improvements in reading and memory (2013).

Robert Thatcher, who had previously worked with Roy John and created his own QEEG database at the University of Maryland, suggested that database Z scores could be used for training the EEG. This method was implemented by Tom Collura who published cases demonstrating the effectiveness in changing qEEG measures (2010). Clinical data is beginning to come out on this method, including the treatment of insomnia by Hammer (2011).

Perhaps the newest form of neurofeedback is based on LORETA, targeting current density change in specific brain regions. Rex Cannon working with Joel Lubar has published work showing improvements in processing speed and working memory after training the anterior cingulate (2009).

If you are interested in learning more about the history of neurofeedback, check out A Symphony in the Brain, by Jim Robbins. The author has asked me to link to Amazon as an ebook version should be available soon.