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Feedback Technique May Boost Memory

Excerpt By Stephen Pincock, Reuters Health

LONDON (Reuters Health) - British scientists may have enhanced the working memory of medical students by using "neurofeedback," a technique researchers think might also help some people with hyperactivity, epilepsy and alcoholism.

Neurofeedback trains people to alter their brain activity to enhance specific frequencies of activity while subduing others. Signals picked up by an EEG sensor on the scalp are fed back to the individual in the form of a video game displayed on a computer screen. The participant learns to control the game by altering particular aspects of brain activity.

"What it takes is a relaxed and focused attention," researcher Dr. David Vernon told Reuters Health. "You have to use the feedback to guide you. If you start scoring, think about what is happening in your body and that's the state you want to be in."

In a study of 40 medical students, Vernon and colleagues from Imperial College London found that after two 15-minute neurofeedback sessions a week for four weeks, a subset of the students were able to boost their "sensorimotor rhythm" (SMR) activity, a type of brain wave activity.

"These people were able to change their EEG profile and were able to enhance their SMR activity," Vernon said. "Whether that was permanent or not I don't know."

The participants trained to improve this SMR brain activity also saw an improved recall of a series of words, from an average of 71% before the neurofeedback training to 82% afterwards.

"This is the first time we have shown a link between the use of neurofeedback and improvements in memory," said Vernon, whose group reports their findings this month in the International Journal of Psychophysiology.

"Whether this was a causal relationship or whether it was just some sort of association, it is too early to tell," he cautioned. Other participants, who were trained to enhance different brain activity frequencies, did not show a significant increase in recall.

Clinical research from the US has shown that the technique can benefit children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, people with epilepsy, and possibly even be used as a complementary therapy for substance abuse such as alcoholism, he said.

Professor John Gruzelier, another researcher who took part in the study, said neurofeedback had been proven to be effective in altering brain activity, but the extent to which this can influence behavior is still unknown.

"Further tests are needed to confirm this, but if neurofeedback can positively influence the cognitive performance of healthy individuals, as we have previously shown on attention and musical performance, it opens up the possibility that such treatment may be beneficial for those suffering from cognitive deficits."

SOURCE: International Journal of Psychophysiology 2003;47:75-85.


Reference Source 89

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