Neurofeedback was born in the late 1950’s at the University of Chicago by Joe Kamiya, PhD, Psychology. Dr. Kamiya was studying how people could learn to produce alpha waves (associated with relaxation) through the use of positive feedback. Through his research, he demonstrated that individuals could voluntarily enter an alpha state in response to a simple sound cue.
Barry Sterman at the UCLA later used the principles of neurofeedback to successfully demonstrate a positive effect on pathological conditions. He had trained cats to produce a specific EEG frequency known as Sensory Motor Rhythm (SMR). SMR is an alert, focused state associated with waiting to be fed. The National Aeronoautics and Space Administration asked Sterman to investigate the toxicity of the rocket fuel (MMH – monomethylhydrazine) which was known to cause nausea, hallucinations, seizures, and death. He discovered that research cats previously exposed to neurofeedback did not develop seizures as did the regular laboratory cats.
In 1971 Sterman conducted research on his first human subject to investigate whether neurofeedback could benefit seizure activity. A 23 year old woman who had been diagnosed with epilepsy at age 8 (grand mal seizures >2 per month) was seizure free after training her brain twice weekly for three months. Results were replicated and published in the journal Epilepsia in 1978.
Much of the scientific work around neurofeedback has been done in Europe, Russia, and Australia. Unfortunately, to date, neurofeedback has not gained widespread acceptance in North America possibly due to multiple competing neurofeedback systems with limited commercial potential. Most often, EEG biofeedback is not covered by health insurance which is a barrier for many, also contributing to fewer large-scale studies being conducted. Despite this, there are many case studies demonstrating the benefits of this approach supporting brain health and resilience.
Van der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, New York: VIKING, 2014.