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Ask Slashdot: Neurofeedback At Home, Is It Possible? 68

Posted by Soulskill
from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept.
New submitter sker writes "Mind hackers, self-help junkies, even regular people have heard wild promises of the power of neurofeedback — namely the process of watching a visual representation of your own brain's activity to influence what your brain is doing. Folks are using it to cure ADHD, PTSD, or even to supposedly improve mindfulness meditation. Previously the sole domain of costly hospital and research equipment, the necessary EEG equipment is making its way into the home. From newagey Deepak Chopra-endorsed kits to the for-engineers-only OpenEEG project, the options are rapidly getting unwieldy for curious bystanders to make sense of. Have you had experience with EEG or neurofeedback at home? Do you have advice?"
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Ask Slashdot: Neurofeedback At Home, Is It Possible?

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  • by Nutria (679911) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @03:58PM (#44016891)

    biofeedback, which was the self-help craze of the 1970s. It didn't work very well. (No, I didn't RTFA.)

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @04:27PM (#44017075) Journal
      Biofeedback seems to work for a lot of things [wikipedia.org], including ADHD, anxiety, chronic pain, epilepsy, constipation, tempromandibular joint dysfunction, and female urinary incontinence.

      My guess is that for problems where a lack of awareness of what's happening is the primary cause, this sort of thing can be extremely helpful. In other cases (for example, if a shark is chewing on your leg), watching a visual representation of your brain isn't going to help much.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Biofeedback seems to work for a lot of things [wikipedia.org], including ADHD, anxiety, chronic pain, epilepsy, constipation, tempromandibular joint dysfunction, and female urinary incontinence.

        My guess is that for problems where a lack of awareness of what's happening is the primary cause, this sort of thing can be extremely helpful. In other cases (for example, if a shark is chewing on your leg), watching a visual representation of your brain isn't going to help much.

        No, like with just about everything, a practice will produce some beneficial results - like lowering one's blood pressure and people then extrapolate thinking that it will solve ALL their problems. It becomes a panacea

        For example. Herbert Benson in the Relaxation Response [relaxationresponse.org] found that Transcendental Mediation (TM - Really it is) will reduce hypertension.

        Jon Kabot-Zinn has done quite a bit of research on Mindfulnes and Yoga and it's benefits on dealing with stress.

        Unfortunately, many folks then think mindfu

        • by Cragen (697038)
          Mindfulness, a meditation technique in both Buddhism and Hinduism (and recommended widely in western psychological practice), is a widely misunderstood practice. It is simply the practice of "watching one's mind". "Happy", like "sad", "depressed", etc., is a feeling that comes from one's mind. Eventually, one realizes that the mind *is* the problem. (Well, the "gross" level of the "mind" is another way of putting it.) One then learns that ignoring that gross level of the mind is the next step in the process
      • The real trick is to combine it with self-neuroelectrostimulation.

      • by JBMcB (73720)

        Most of it has to do with lowering your blood pressure.

        You could also just chill and listen to some relaxing music or have a beer, which is cheaper and much more enjoyable than taping electrodes to your head.

        • You could also just chill and listen to some relaxing music or have a beer, which is cheaper and much more enjoyable than taping electrodes to your head.

          lol let's just say that's a matter of opinion. Some people design computers for fun, for example.

        • by peragrin (659227)

          Alcohol doesn't actually make me relaxed. For those who get angry drunk having a beer just isn't a good idea unless they can control how many beers they have.

          For me I don't seem to react to stimulants like others. Sure caffeine might keep me alert. if I drink a cup right before trying to go to sleep.

          • For me I don't seem to react to stimulants like others. Sure caffeine might keep me alert.

            Caffeine has very little affect on me that I can discern. Eating breakfast does more to wake me up in the morning. I can drink a Red Bull and sleep just fine right after. Not sure why. I also know someone who has Novocaine resistance. Going to the dentist was a nightmare for years until they realized she could still feel things.

            • by gstoddart (321705)

              Going to the dentist was a nightmare for years until they realized she could still feel things.

              I have a very strict policy about letting the dentist know I can still feel things ... if your friend went for years without putting up a fuss, she's either very brave, or way too timid to say "hey, asshole, this still hurts way too much for the freezing to have worked".

              • That is good for you. In her case, it had been that way since she was a kid, so she just thought that's how dentistry was until she became roughly an adult.
      • In other cases (for example, if a shark is chewing on your leg), watching a visual representation of your brain isn't going to help much.

        I tried one of those biofeedback devices as a kid - my father is a dentist and his patients back then were asking for it (fad?) as an alternative to other pain control methods, so he got one. It was a handheld unit basically the shape of a modern mouse (hrm, the Mac 128 could have learned something from those) that had a couple electrically conductive pads on them connec

    • Yeah, Edmund Scientific used to sell DIY biofeedback kits back then. They also sold plastic pyramids that were supposed to keep your razor blades sharp.

      I think people had better drugs back in the 70's.

    • by sjames (1099)

      As a pop psychology fad based on overpriced stuff from the sharper image, yes it didn't work very well.

      As a tool in cognitive behavioral therapy, it could be very effective.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Just like the neurofeedback stuff that was in Radio Electronics magazine decades ago? Wow, finally making its way into the home!
  • by EdZ (755139) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @04:06PM (#44016957)

    the options are rapidly getting unwieldy for curious bystanders to make sense of.

    That's because it IS unwieldy, for anyone. Even EEG done properly is not cheap or simple, and EEG is not a wonderful method of visualising what is actually going on in the brain: you're measuring the potential difference between points of the surface of the skull, and making a guess as to roughly the region in the brain the current(s) that produced that potential difference are actually occurring in based on electrode placement.
    fMRI and similar are better, but NOT something you can do at home (just building the superconducting main coil would be a massive feat).

    • by acx2 (2798695) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @04:51PM (#44017197)
      While I don't have experience with neuro-feedback, I do have some experience building and using an EEG.

      That's because it IS unwieldy, for anyone. Even EEG done properly is not cheap or simple, and EEG is not a wonderful method of visualising what is actually going on in the brain:

      As the parent says, an EEG signal is complicated, noisy, and difficult to interpret. Many of the wild promises are just that; wild promises used to hype business plans. To get an idea of what's currently possible with state of the art research for implanted electrodes (which provide a much better signal than a surface EEG), the following nature video on research at Brown may help:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ogBX18maUiM .

      If you are still interested, it is very possible to play with EEG signals at home. The OpenEEG project is one place to start. If you are interested in designing your own hardware, the ADS1299 provides much of the functionality in a single chip (and allows you to do much more of the filtering in software where you can play more tricks). Noise is a major issue. You'll want good electrodes (sintered silver-silver chloride are best) and some form of electrode gel. You'll also want to look into signal analysis techniques; this in an active area of research for EEGs. The book "Brain-Computer Interfaces: Principles and Practice" edited by Wolpaw and Wolpaw (ISBN 978-0195388855) provides a good overview.

      A small group of us are currently working on an open-hardware EEG-controlled mouse that you can build at home. It's still at an early stage, but we have managed to move a cursor on screen to a series of targets (and show via bootstrapping that we're doing much better than chance). The designs for the board and software prototypes can be found here: https://github.com/ericherman/eeg-mouse [github.com] . If you want to be notified when we have something a little less prototype-like, send one of us an email and we'll start a list. If you want a better description of where we're at, create an issue on github.

      You *can* play with this at home - either with your own software/hardware or someone else's. Much like writing a speech recognition engine, however, if you plan on easy success you'll be disappointed, but if you plan on a challenge you'll have a lot of fun.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        from http://www.huxley.net/bnw-revisited/

        "Dr. Poetzl, an Austrian neurologist, who had recently published a paper describing his experiments with the tachistoscope. (The tachistoscope is an instrument that comes in two forms -- a viewing box, into which the subject looks at an image that is exposed for a small fraction of a second; a magic lantern with a high-speed shutter, capable of projecting an image very briefly upon a screen.) In these experiments Poetzl required the subjects to make a drawing of what

    • fMRI and similar are better, but NOT something you can do at home

      What about long-wave infrared imaging? Also, if you could get your hands on a few squids, you wouldn't need the coil for NMR applications, although my understanding is that the weak magnetic field would cost you a lot of spatial resolution. Or perhaps transcranial sonography could be used for functional imaging. (But I won't even try to guess what suitable acoustic transducers or squids actually cost.)

      • by EdZ (755139)

        if you could get your hands on a few squids

        I'd put constructing a SQUID [wikipedia.org] on a similar level to constructing the main coil. The coil is just a big solenoid wound from superconductors and immersed in liquid Helium (or probably Nitrogen if you're building it at home). Building a SQUID at home requires you to not only construct your own chip fab, but do so on non-standard substrates (you need to make a superconductor-insulator-superconductor junction).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TeslaBoy (1593823)
      It is indeed complicated. Putting on and taking off an EEG array properly takes a couple of hours, which has made home applications of EEG for communication with paralyzed patients impractical. As such, surgically-implanted (brain surface, called intracranial) EEG is being explored for these patients, but would never be used without a very severe disability. Another technology, functional near-infra-red spectroscopy (fNIRS), is also be explored. This is still at an early stage. The group of Rainer Goebel at
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have Tourette's Syndrome and I found it to be very helpful as suppliment to medication. I used it through a doctor first but eventually bought my own machine and did it at home 3 times a week. I checked in with my doctor once every couple of months. She trained me to use it. It's not a cure or anything magical but it does reduce my physical tics noticeably. The software is still behind current times but it's past NES quality now...it was just pong not that "long" ago.

  • Wouldn't have any "mind control" device a similar effect? Like, i.e games [gajitz.com] or prosthetic limbs [mashable.com]. That would give a more practical use (and reach a far bigger audience), while keeping the benefits.
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @05:02PM (#44017251) Homepage

    Well, there's Nekomimi [youtube.com] - cat ears controlled by brain waves. They recognize "relaxed", "alert", and "startled".

  • by p00kiethebear (569781) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @05:50PM (#44017505)
    When I was 13 ADD was causing significant problems in my academics and social life. We did the ritalin thing for a bit but my mother wanted to try something else to help since the drug didn't seem very effective.

    The program involved me sitting in a dentists chair while I had electrodes on my head. I played a dumbed down version of pac-man with my mind.

    The basic way it works is when your brain is creating the ideal waves for 'focus' the pacman moves through the maze. The idea is that the child will focus on the pacman moving and through practice will learn to move the pacman through the maze without stopping.

    Eventually we ended the program because it just made me so tired I would fall asleep in the chair. Booooring as shit. I suspect something like this would probably work better for an adult who cares more and has the focus to do it. I think I was too young at the time to really care to put more effort into it.

  • http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/neurofeedback-and-the-need-for-science-based-medicine/

    and from Quackwatch:

    Neurotherapy -- also called neurofeedback and EEG neurofeedback -- is a form of behavior modification that uses electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback technology to increase voluntary control over the amplitude and pattern of various brain wave frequencies. Proponents claim that modifying brain wave patterns is effective against anxiety reactions, mood disorders, substance abuse, attenti

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Not that I necessarily disagree, but the people who post on quackwatch aren't necessarily qualified to evaluate the things they're complaining about. Which if there's no body of data on it at all is to be expected, but you also find people using logical reasoning to argue against research papers as well without even working in a similar field of expertise.

      Also, bear in mind that neurotherapy is a much more recent development than biofeedback is, and it's going to be a while before it's really settled. It's

    • I worked in neurofeedback for a short time. My 'colleagues' were con artists and sociopaths, in my view, and neurofeedback definitely isn't marketed and sold in an honest manner. But it does do something, it's not simple quackery. A lot of things aren't easy to characterize in a controlled manner, or aren't studied adequately for funding reasons, but are nevertheless real. Whether neurofeedback does more good than harm for most users is a more difficult question. But that's not at all clear for drugs l

    • by Qwavel (733416)

      That was 2007 (your link). I believe there have been lots of studies with positive results (and perhaps improvements in technology) since then.

      Here's a recent article about using it for tinnitus (an area with more quackery then most others combined):
      "The Effects of Neurofeedback on Oscillatory Processes Related to Tinnitus"
      http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10548-013-0295-9 [springer.com]

  • And it's pretty cool, you need to use your brain waves in order to control the ball and make it move, so, in that respect, doing a bit everything eventually gets you pretty good at having control.
    • by aabrown (154032)

      I LOVE those kinds of things. I had something similar to that on my Atari back in the day. For fun: I'm all for it. For actually helping or curing any disease: nope nope nope. Because of you, I'm going to have to pick one of those up next time I see it. :)

      • by narcc (412956)

        Are you sure? The Atari Mindlink was never actually released -- and read "forehead muscle movement" not "brainwaves".

        There were a lots of ads for it though.

    • by EdZ (755139)

      you need to use your brain waves in order to control the ball and make it move

      I'm sorry to tell you, but in simple two-electrode EEG setups the chances that you're actually picking up potential differences due to brain activity are near zero. What you have is a forehead-muscle-contraction-controlled game, not a mind-controlled one. An Electromyogram not an Electroencephalogram.

      • Most if them are three electrode, actually. I just picked up a mind flex and the duo (two player version), and am tearing into them to see how useful the data is. Byt, i agree that even with three sensor points, most of the signal will be pulse and muscle movement, not neural activity.
  • Now we can watch those embedded alien souls at work in our minds.
  • by mandginguero (1435161) on Saturday June 15, 2013 @08:03PM (#44018223)

    hard call to make - use mod points, or participate. I'm doing my dissertation work in an EEG lab at UCSD, and while I don't actively research neurofeedback training (NFT from hereon out), my adviser and other lab members do. The OP gets it wrong - there is no cure for these psychiatric conditions. NFT may alleviate some of the symptoms, but it is likely the underlying etiology of ADHD, PTSD and Autism (which we investigate) is different enough from individual to individual that this may not be therapeutic for everyone.

    A quick crash course in EEG. Neurons in the brain communicate between themselves via chemical signals. Some of these neurotransmitters cause quick voltage changes in their target neurons (either excite with inflow of positive ions like Na+, or inhibit with inflow of negative ions like Cl-). When you have large regions of neurons communicating with others, you'll see synchronized activity - say when someone touches your arm, the part of your parietal cortex that represents that arm will have a large amount of neurons suddenly get excited. When they get excited, they draw in positive charges, and there is a net negative charge left outside of the neurons. You can detect these fluctuations in more or less real time from outside of the head - but there are limitations. Where an electrode sits on the scalp will not give you a good idea of where in the brain the signal comes from. Between the neurons and the sensor on the scalp there are several different protective layers of tissue, some fluid filled with electrolytes, bone, and skin. These electrical signals are more likely to traverse laterally underneath the skull, than to penetrate out. What you record on the outside is a noisy, noisy combination of all the signals from all over your brain, plus some muscle activity (think eye muscles and jaw). In fact, the muscle electricity is a couple orders of magnitude stronger at your scalp electrode than brain electricity. It is mathematically impossible to determine exactly where a signal recorded on the scalp originated in the brain - there are some fancy algorithms to approximate solutions, but that is another thread. Without knowing where the signals come from, one way to try to figure out what brain regions are talking to each other is by decomposing the complex signal into its component frequencies using something like a fourier transform.

    Psychiatric therapy directed NFT is supposed to work by identifying different brain frequencies (from hereon out called brain rhythms) at specific locations on the scalp that differ from the general population. There is a database of the general population's brainwaves for this process called QEEG (quantitative EEG, however this is a little misleading because all EEG since digital sampling/recording is quantitative....) and you can take someone with say ADHD and compare their 10 Hz brain rhythm at the site right over the center of their head to the 10 Hz rhythm of the general population. If there is less power (power = amplitude squared) at this electrode site than the general population, a clinician might devise an NFT program to focus on the 10 hz signal at that sensor location.

    p00kiethebear describes a very similar protocol for what my lab employs. For instance, we have children with a diagnosis of autism come in and watch videos or play simple games, and when the 10 Hz signal is above the threshold determined by their QEEG diagnosis, the frames will advance. It is in essence a form of guided meditation. The control that a user develops is qualitatively different from person to person. There are no clear instructions you can give someone to help them figure out how to engage a specific brain rhythm. One kid described it as imaging a hand coming out of his head. Another described peeling oranges. I seem to have a stronger 10 Hz rhythm when I imagine kung fu forms. Go figure.

    Conceptually, to do this sort of training at home shouldn't be too difficult. If you have the technical savy to follow the open EEG project you'll have the minimum amount of

    • hard call to make - use mod points, or participate. I'm doing my dissertation work in an EEG lab at UCSD, and while I don't actively research neurofeedback training (NFT from hereon out), my adviser and other lab members do. The OP gets it wrong - there is no cure for these psychiatric conditions. NFT may alleviate some of the symptoms, but it is likely the underlying etiology of ADHD, PTSD and Autism (which we investigate) is different enough from individual to individual that this may not be therapeutic for everyone.

      That's precisely right. My lab does not do neurofeedback at all, so my knowledge might be outdated by about two years because neurofeedback paradigms are not something that I pay attention to. But nonetheless, my sense is that neurofeedback is a really cool paradigm -- but not even close to being ready for clinical prime time.

      Like so much else in the brain, we don't really have any idea what neurofeedback means. What we do know, is that subjects are able to modulate their own alpha (10 Hz) power or bol

  • http://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Science-Force-Trainer/dp/B001UZHASY [amazon.com] $40 at Amazon, and it's got a Star Wars theme to boot. EEG is literally child's play these days.
  • Interesting concept.

    Now how about watching your seizures start (if you have epilepsy)? Watching your migraine start is fascinating until you have it. :)

  • Think about it: you integrate the Kinect (which reputedly recognises facial expressions) and let it do its thing while you watch TV. They record your expressions as the commercial runs. In exchange for this (sacrificing your privacy) they give you a discount on your monthly TV bill. I can see it happening.

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