In just a few minutes, your phone screen can display a map – and not just any map – but an elaborate, personalized representation of your brain.
This map shows you which areas of your brain may be overactive or underactive, contributing to poor or high attention, memory, or processing speed, and highlights your brain’s strengths and weaknesses.
But most importantly, it enables you to seek appropriate interventions or therapies tailored to your specific brain activity patterns. This can lead to more effective and targeted interventions, ultimately improving your overall wellbeing.
And it's all thanks to qEEG (quantitative Electroencephalography).
qEEG is a technique that involves recording and analyzing the electrical activity of the brain using electroencephalography (EEG). But what does that mean exactly, and how does qEEG work?
In this article we'll break down:
What Is qEEG Exactly, and What Does It Measure?
In your brain, there are patterns of electrical activity. These patterns are called brainwaves (delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma), and are associated with different states of consciousness, including alertness, relaxation, and sleep.
For example, when you're relaxed, your brain activity measurements will probably show increased alpha brainwave activity. On the other hand, if you're tired and drifting off to sleep, it's more likely that theta will be your dominant brainwave frequency.
These brainwave frequencies can be measured through sensors placed on your head, often using a technique called electroencephalography (EEG). EEG enables you to see your brain activity as it unfolds in real time, at the level of milliseconds.
For qEEG, which is an FDA-approved tool, your EEG recordings are processed using sophisticated mathematical and statistical methods. They can then be compared to known brain performance markers calculated from a normative database consisting of recordings from other brains.
These markers take into account factors such as age, gender, whether your eyes were closed or open when the measurements were taken, and sensor locations. qEEG data can even be used to create visual representations in the form of brain maps.
So, just like the countries and continents are represented on a geographic map, with qEEG, your brain function can be mapped onto spatially defined areas of your brain so that it can be compared to normative values.
How is a Brain Map Interpreted?
The brainwaves are measured from multiple brain regions, and, for each region, they are compared to measurements from other individuals within the same age range and of the same sex.
Each comparison generates a color indicating how far the measurement is from the norm. For example, in the image below, red indicates above the norm whereas green means right within the norm, and blue means far below the norm.
It's important to remember that different colors do not necessarily equate to "good" or "bad" results. The interpretation of colors such as red or blue in a brain map can vary depending on many things, such as the brainwave and region being analyzed. Therefore, it is best to consult a trained professional to get the most accurate results and understand what the different colors and ranges signify.
What Can a qEEG Tell You About Your Brain Health?
One of the key insights that qEEG can provide is the identification of brain regions that demonstrate abnormal brainwave activity as compared to the norm (i.e., other age-matched brains), as well as overactive or underactive areas in your brain.
Imagine a car engine with some cylinders firing too fast and others too slow. Similarly, qEEG can pinpoint areas of your brain that may be working too hard or not hard enough.
For instance, if certain regions of your brain are overactive, it can contribute to issues like anxiety, restlessness, or difficulty concentrating.
On the other hand, underactive areas may lead to problems with memory, attention, or mood regulation. By identifying these imbalances, qEEG can guide healthcare professionals in developing targeted interventions to rebalance your brain's activity.
These important measurements can also potentially enable healthcare professionals to:
Discover the underlying cause of your psychological or physiological symptoms: Specific functions may be better performed by a given brain region when associated with specific brainwave levels. For example, after a qEEG, your provider may find frontal alpha brainwave asymmetry. These findings can help explain symptoms such as impulsivity.
Create a data-driven therapy plan for the best results: Theoretically, your healthcare provider could use qEEG to ensure you're headed in the right direction when it comes to your therapy approach. For instance, you might struggle with irritability, but your qEEG brain map might also show patterns depicting an individual with depressive traits. This insight into your brain functionality may lead them to a different understanding of your psychological state and help them achieve a therapy outcome that's more beneficial for you.
Train your brain with neurofeedback: Neurofeedback is a type of personalized and guided brain training that uses real-time feedback to enable you to regulate your brain activity. qEEG brain mapping findings could help a healthcare professional create a personalized neurofeedback protocol that targets the specific areas of your brain that are causing your symptoms.
How Is qEEG Performed?
Whether qEEG is performed in the doctor's office or in the comfort of your home, the basic principle is the same: you sit in a relaxed position, wear a head device to measure brainwave activity, and stay as still as possible.
For example, when doing qEEG at home, you're looking at your mobile device connected via Bluetooth to a headset that measures your brain activity, and you're virtually guided through several cognitive tasks.
You are given directions, such as to open your eyes or to take deep breaths, although specific instructions may vary based on the objectives of the qEEG. This recording takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
After data collection, the recorded brainwave patterns are processed and analyzed using specialized software, the measurements are compared to normative values, and a visual topographic map, otherwise known as a brain map, is created.
Where Can You Get qEEG Brain Mapping, and What Is It Used For?
When seeking qEEG brain mapping, it's essential to consult with a qualified healthcare provider or specialist who can properly interpret the results and guide any necessary therapy plan or intervention based on the findings.
Some common places where you can get a brain map are neurology clinics, psychology practices, hospitals, private EEG clinics, neurofeedback clinics, and companies such as Myndlift, who offer remote neurofeedback.
Although Myndlift offers a remote training option, your program is expert-guided. You’ll be connected to a Neuro Coach who will look at your qEEG results and personalize your neurofeedback program based on your results and goals. Additionally, they’ll help you stay on track with your training and monitor your progress so you always know where you stand.
Neurofeedback uses real-time feedback to enable you to regulate your brain activity. The real-time feedback of your brainwave activity is provided using visual (games/videos) and/or auditory (sound effects/music) cues on your computer or a mobile screen.
These cues let you know when your brain is not in the target state – whether you're unfocused, anxious, stressed, etc. – the volume may decrease, or the images on the screen may become less focused or more difficult to see.
On the other hand, when the optimal state is achieved, your brain is rewarded by your player moving faster or the volume going back up.
Over time, with practice and consistency, your brain can learn to associate the target brain activity with the reward, thereby regulating it to be in an optimal state – to improve focus or reduce stress and anxiety.
Eventually, the ability to regulate brainwaves can have a great impact on everyday situations.
For example, you may find it easier to stay focused in a stressful situation, such as during a job interview or an exam.
qEEG brain mapping is a valuable tool in modern neuroscience, offering insights into the intricate workings of the human brain and paving the way for personalized therapy strategies.
By harnessing the data-driven precision of qEEG, healthcare professionals can better understand brain function, helping you improve your better brain health and overall wellbeing.
With this powerful neuroscience tool in hand, unlocking your brain's full potential has never been more within reach.
Myndlift provides a personalized expert-guided brain training program that can help you elevate your wellbeing by improving your sleep quality, focus, calm, and self-control over mood. Take this 10-second quiz to check if you’re eligible to kick-start your journey for better brain health.
About the author:
Dubravka Rebic puts a lot of time and energy into researching and writing in order to help create awareness and positive change in the mental health space. From poring over scientific studies to reading entire books in order to write a single content piece, she puts in the hard work to ensure her content is of the highest quality and provides maximum value.
About the reviewer:
Kaija Sander is a cognitive neuroscientist and scientific consultant for Myndlift. She holds a BSc in Biomedical Science with a specialization in Neuroscience and Mental Health from Imperial College London and a PhD in Neuroscience from McGill University. Her doctoral research focused on brain connectivity relating to second language learning success. She is passionate about the broader applications of science to have a positive impact on people’s lives.
Ellis AJ, Kinzel C, Salgari GC, Loo SK. Frontal alpha asymmetry predicts inhibitory processing in youth with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Neuropsychologia. 2017 Jul 28;102:45-51. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.06.003. Epub 2017 Jun 3. PMID: 28587767; PMCID: PMC5536950.