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A Brief History of Neurofeedback: When Was Neurofeedback Invented and What’s the Science Behind It

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

  • Neurofeedback is a highly personalized way to train the brain and improve performance.

  • Neurofeedback was invented in the late 1950s and 1960s by two researchers: Dr. Joseph Kamiya at the University of Chicago and Dr. Barry Sterman at UCLA.

  • In the 1970s, Dr. Joel Lubar began to run controlled studies applying neurofeedback training to children, adolescents, and adults to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

  • Since the 1970s, substantial research on neurofeedback therapy for ADHD has shown significant and lasting improvements.

Delving into the depths of the human mind has been an enduring quest for scientists, researchers, and individuals seeking to unlock the true potential of our brains. In this pursuit, the field of neurofeedback has emerged as a groundbreaking discipline, offering insights and possibilities that were once deemed unimaginable.

From its humble beginnings in the 1960s to its present-day advancements, the history of neurofeedback is a fascinating tale of innovation, perseverance, and transformative impact. And it all started in the 1920s when German psychiatrist Hans Berger created the first electroencephalogram (EEG) device by attaching electrodes to the human head and measuring the electric currents produced.

But before we dive into the history of neurofeedback, let's take a step back and explain what neurofeedback is and how it works exactly.


What Is Neurofeedback?

Neurofeedback is a non-invasive, evidence-based form of personalized brain training that alters the brain wave activity and has been found to be helpful in alleviating symptoms of, ADHD, anxiety, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury, as well as in improving cognitive performance.


It uses real time feedback from EEG to measure your brain waves, and with regular training, it can teach the brain to self-regulate itself better. Here’s how:


How Does Neurofeedback Work?


There are five types of brainwaves (delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma), they are associated with different states of consciousness, including alertness, relaxation, as well as sleep, and they can provide insights about your current mental state.

For example, they can indicate when you feel tired, focused, or relaxed. So when you're calm, your brain activity measurements will likely show increased alpha brainwave activity. On the other hand, if you're stressed and overwhelmed, it's more likely that high beta will be your dominant brainwave frequency.

Now, imagine playing a video game while your brain wave activity is being measured with EEG. In this game, you drive a car and must maintain calm in order to remain on track.

As you enter the state of calmness, sensors measure your brain activity, and the game reflects the activity by responding in real time. The calmer you are, the faster the car goes.

Conversely, if you start feeling anxious, the car will slow down. In this way, the game rewards relaxation, helping to train the brain to stay calm.

This bidirectional approach means that neurofeedback can teach you to better regulate your brain function and hopefully improve performance in different areas as a result.


The History of Neurofeedback: When Was Neurofeedback Invented?


Neurofeedback was pioneered in the late 1950s and 1960s by two researchers: Dr. Joseph Kamiya at the University of Chicago and Dr. Barry Sterman at UCLA.

Dr. Kamiya found that by using a simple reward system, people could control their brain waves. He trained people to achieve an alpha state by rewarding them with the sound of a bell. This was the first time real time feedback was given to humans based on their EEG monitoring - the first instance of neurofeedback training.


A few years later, Dr. Sterman was doing an experiment for NASA on whether rocket fuel caused seizures, and he used the same cats as experiment subjects. During this study, he found (to his surprise) that the cats who had undergone SMR training were significantly less likely to experience seizures than other cats. Dr. Sterman then applied this technique to humans suffering from epilepsy, where he found that 60% of the subjects were able to reduce their epileptic seizures by 20-100% and that the results were long-lasting.

In the 1970s, Dr. Joel Lubar first began to run controlled studies applying neurofeedback training to children, adolescents, and adults to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Since then, a significant body of research on the efficacy of neurofeedback therapy for ADHD has emerged, with many studies showing significant and long-term improvements after neurofeedback training.


What’s the Science Behind Neurofeedback?

Since the 1970s, a significant body of research on the efficacy of neurofeedback therapy for ADHD has emerged, with many studies showing significant and long-term improvements after neurofeedback training.

Visit our research overview article for a comprehensive summary of neurofeedback research in multiple conditions, with supporting scientific references.

Conclusion

Remarkable advancements have marked the history of neurofeedback since its invention in the 1960s. This innovative approach to mental health is currently at the forefront of the field, constantly growing and developing while pushing boundaries and revolutionizing how we optimize performance. One neuron at a time.


Myndlift provides a personalized expert-guided brain training program that can help you achieve your goals towards reaching improved focus and calm. Check if you’re eligible to kick start your journey with us for better brain health from here.


 

References:

Kamiya, J. (1971). "Operant Control of the EEG Alpha Rhythm and Some of its Reported Effects on Consciousness". Biofeedback and Self-Control: an Aldine Reader on the Regulation of Bodily Processes and Consciousness.

Sterman, M.B.; Friar, L. (1972). "Suppression of seizures in an epileptic following sensorimotor EEG feedback training". Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 33 (1): 89–95. doi:10.1016/0013-4694(72)90028-4. PMID 4113278.

Sterman, M.B. (2000). "Basic concepts and clinical findings in the treatment of seizure disorders with EEG operant conditioning". Clin Electroencephalogr. 31 (1): 45–55. doi:10.1177/155005940003100111. PMID 10638352.


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