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Neurofeedback: Re-shaping the brain by applied brain plasticity

Neurofeedback: Re-shaping the brain by applied brain plasticity

The brain is an information processing machine adjusting itself to the environment. Information processing can be defined as reducing uncertainty. It has been suggested that the brain developed from an evolutionary point of view once living creatures started moving around in a changing and thus uncertain environment. 

Therefore it can be proposed that the primary purpose of having a brain (and critical for survival) is to reduce uncertainty (about the environment) by processing external (and internal) information. Perception can be seen as Bayesian inference, where an intention driven prediction is actively looked for in the environment. This prediction is then updated by what the senses extract from the environment. The percept itself is an emerging property of a network activation, processing the information at different oscillation frequencies. In pathology, symptoms can be conceived of as emergent properties of parallel, dynamically changing but overlapping networks as part of a complex adaptive system. Using the brain’s adaptive characteristics can be advantageous in retraining the brain by reshaping its networks.

This is the purpose of neurofeedback, applying operant conditioning by interfering with the brain’s Bayesian updating mechanisms. Thus a conceptual model can help understand what neurofeedback does. This model sees delta activity as controlling basic homeostatic activity and a carrier wave for higher oscillation frequencies. Theta is a carrier wave integrating beta and gamma activity by theta-beta and theta gamma nesting. The beta and gamma activity is locally restricted in distributed areas. Theta therefore encodes memory and theta/beta coupling, allowing memory based predictions of future events/stimuli. In order to update the prediction, alpha is used as a scanning and attention mechanism sampling the environment for salient information.

The prediction error or change is encoded in gamma. Thus correct predictions about the environment will be encoded by beta activity, which therefore represents a status quo, whereas wrong predictions or insufficient input from the environment will be represented by beta/gamma. Thus neurofeedback attempts to modulate these oscillatory networks, thereby normalizing predictions, attention to internal or external stimuli, or processing of prediction errors.

Areas of Interest / Categories: ANSA, ANSA 2014, Neurobiology, Neurofeedback, Neuroplasticity, Treatment