How Far Neurofeedback Has Come: A Brief Overview
The origins of Neurofeedback date back farther than many people realize. In 1875, in Great Britain, Richard Caton observed electrical patterns in animal brains.
In the early 1920s, a German psychiatrist named Hans Berger discovered patterns in the human brain which he named alpha rhythms. In areas where the alpha rhythms were absent or smaller, he referred these waves as beta. This nomenclature has survived through to today. Around ten years later, two British scientists, Adrian & Matthews, repeated Berger’s studies, proved further that the alpha wave rhythm could be influenced, and they basically introduced the field of EEG (electroencephalogram) to the scientific community.
As previously stated, Neurofeedback is built on the foundation of operant conditioning, which was first historically introduced by Ivan Pavlov in 1927 through classical conditioning and his world-famous experiment, “Pavlov’s dog”. Another notable figure, BF Skinner in 1938 would redefine Pavlov’s theory and naming it operant conditioning, an association between specific behaviors and consequences. For Neurofeedback to be effective, its final response can be reached by reinforcing successive approximations of a desired response through the process of shaping (Skinner, 1958).
In between Pavlov and Skinner, a Russian scientist, Petr K. Anokhin in 1935 would be credited with the concept of feedback. This theory was then carried out by clinicians who would use the method of biological feedback for treating psychiatric and neurological diseases.
It wasn’t until 1968, when Dr. Barry Sterman was researching neurological activity associated with sleep at UCLA in California that the field of neurofeedback began to emerge. His experiments related to EEG parameters would be used as a form of feedback for self-regulation. Dr. Sterman began observing brain activity in cats and monkeys using EEG monitoring equipment. Sterman’s experiment has been regarded and argued as preliminary research toward Neurofeedback. In comparison to Pavlov, Sterman noticed a stillness in the mental state of cats, which would prompt him to run an EEG to find their rhythm frequency. His tactic became known as, “sensory motor rhythm.” Later, Sterman would play the desired frequency while the cats received the reinforcement, giving way to the very first experiment where an individual proved that brain behavior could be changed through EEG conditioning.
Shortly after, Sterman would be approached by NASA to deal with a toxic rocket fuel that was the culprit of seizures for many astronauts. His findings would provide immense research on how seizures and their duration could be reduced with proper EEG training. To this day, NASA is still utilizing these tactics. Sterman went on to conduct a variety of EEG research that shaped the field.
In 1969, brain self-regulation was officially named Biofeedback, which would later help pave the way for Neurofeedback. Fast forward ten years and Niels BiermBaum and his colleagues in Germany would be using Biofeedback treatments for epilepsy and schizophrenia. Which brings us to the birth of Neurofeedback in the early 1970s. Roy John from the New York University Medical Center would coin the term neurometrics (John, 1977), introducing the idea of quantitatively comparing parameters of individual EEG against a normal group.
Throughout the 1970s, EEG biofeedback was used as a treatment of anxiety disorders anxiety, and a variety of psychosomatic disorders. Early work conducted by researchers such as Kamiya, Kliterman, and Peniston continues to be the foundation of Neurofeedback.
In the 1970s and 80s, Dr. Joel Lubar began using Neurofeedback with individuals with ADHD. His work coupled with the invention of the personal computer, really become the basis of modern Neurofeedback. He is one of the country’s foremost experts on the treatment of ADHD. Since then, numerous research studies support the efficacy of Neurofeedback for the treatment of ADHD, with many studies showing significant and long-term improvements after neurofeedback treatment.