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What is Neurofeedback and Biofeedback?

September 27, 2017

The practice of neurofeedback has gained increasing numbers of disciples among teaching hospital physicians since its inception around sixty years ago.  Here we take a look at the differences between biofeedback, neurofeedback, and the real-time feedback that Muse offers during meditation.

Brief History of Neurofeedback

Beginning in the 1950s, medical researchers began to experiment with patient-controlled methods to decrease epileptic seizures. Decreased seizure activity was linked in numerous studies to calming brain wave activity through self-produced brainwave changes.

Neurofeedback—initially promoted as an aid for epileptic adults—became utilized in the conduction of research on meditation practitioners (in order to better understand the brain wave changes occurring during meditation sessions). The result was an increased understanding of the positive physiological effects of alpha brain waves, and the general health benefits of meditation.

Technological advances in EEG diagnostics has enabled neurofeedback to provide information valuable to enabling people to potentially increase their alpha wave prevalence (and decrease the typical beta wave level that is characteristic of wakefulness).

 

Biofeedback VS Neurofeedback: What’s the difference? 

Though often used interchangeably, there is a difference between the terms biofeedback and neurofeedback. According to the Mayo Clinic “biofeedback is a technique you can use to learn to control your body’s functions, such as your heart rate. With biofeedback, you’re connected to electrical sensors that help you receive information (feedback) about your body (bio).”

Types of biofeedback include (1):

  • Brainwave: Scalp sensors monitor brain wave activity using an electroencephalograph (EEG).
  • Breathing: Aka respiratory biofeedback where bands are placed around your abdomen and chest to monitor your breathing patterns and respiration rate.
  • Heart rate: Finger or earlobe sensors with a device called a photoplethysmograph or sensors placed on the chest, lower torso or wrists using an electrocardiograph (ECG) to measure your heart rate and heart rate variability.
  • Muscle: Sensors are placed over your skeletal muscles with an electromyography (EMG) to monitor the electrical activity that causes muscle contraction.
  • Sweat glands: Sensors attached around your fingers or on your palm or wrist with an electrodermograph (EDG) measure the activity of your sweat glands and the amount of perspiration on your skin, alerting you to anxiety.
  • Temperature: Sensors attached to your fingers or feet measure your blood flow to your skin.

The amazing thing about this type of feedback is that is can help the subject gain understanding and awareness about their ability to directly impact their physical state, with their thoughts alone.  The feedback helps them to be able to focus on the subtle changes such as breath, focus, and relaxation of certain muscles to help achieve specific results. Neurofeedback, on the other hand, is a type of biofeedback that uses scalp sensors to monitor your brain waves using an electroencephalograph (EEG).

So, you can think about biofeedback as more of a general umbrella term and neurofeedback is specific to EEG readings.

Positive Real-Life Impacts of Daily Neurofeedback

Described in an article in the Journal of Neurotherapy as physical therapy for the brain, a daily session of neurofeedback can produce positive brain wave changes that can improve mental and physical functioning. Both meditation and neurofeedback—through decreasing beta wave activity—increase cognitive functioning in areas such as concentration and problem-solving.

The laboratory of Prof. Michela Balconi at the Catholic University of Milan sought to understand whether using neurofeedback with Muse daily for several weeks, would show measurable differences when compared to a group using a simple relaxation exercise. Their results were published in a series of two papers in 2017 and 2018.

Members of Prof. Balconi’s lab studied 40 participants over four weeks. Half of the participants used Muse for meditation daily, and the other half (the control group) performed a daily deep breathing exercise while listening to recorded sounds of nature. At the outset, and at the end of weeks two and four, participants underwent high-density EEG and performed a series of cognitive tests, as well as measures of stress.

Prof. Balconi’s study revealed several interesting results:

  1. The group using Muse showed an improvement in response times in a complex reaction task – they got faster at a cognitive task.
  2. Participants using Muse showed changes in their resting brain states, similar to the changes seen in the brains of mindfulness meditators by other researchers, and suggesting an improved control of participants’ ability to relax.   
  3. The participants in the Muse group showed brain plasticity changes indicating, according to the researchers “markers of neural efficiency and information-processing were significantly greater for [Muse] training than control participants.”
  4. Compared to the control group, the Muse group showed a significantly larger reduction in stress – a 16% reduction in perceived stress in just four weeks.

Note: You can find the original published papers from the Balconi Lab study HERE and HERE.

Muse brainwaves

Muse Feedback VS. Traditional Neurofeedback

Many people often ask if the Muse headband and Muse app offer traditional neurofeedback.  The short answer is no – the algorithm that Muse uses in order to provide real-time feedback while you meditate is more complex than traditional neurofeedback.

In creating the Muse app, we started by looking at individual brainwaves and then spent years doing intensive research (with hundreds of hours of meditation data) on the higher-order combinations of primary, secondary, and tertiary characteristics of raw EEG data and how they interact with focused-attention meditation.

From there, we’ve implemented a machine-learning algorithm to have each bandpower used in a unique and complex way to map to the states of calm, active, and neutral.  So, while traditional neurofeedback focuses on monitoring and training individual frequencies, Muse doesn’t look at the individual brainwaves in isolation.  Instead, it has been able to use a unique combination of the various brainwaves in order to provide valuable insight into the different mind states.

If you are looking to use the Muse headband as an EEG device for traditional neurofeedback it can be used in combination with the Muse Direct app to perform individual brainwave monitoring, recording, and streaming. Go HERE to learn more.

 

How feedback from Muse Can Help

Meditating while wearing the Muse headband (connected to a free app on a mobile device) can enable a user to view their brain wave patterns after a session of focused attention meditation.

During their session, and by focusing on their breath, a fundamental aspect of focused attention meditation, they can listen to subtle guiding sound cues to reach the desired focused brainwave response. This helps strengthen the user’s ability to reach this state during everyday events and, in turn, deter mind wandering or negative thoughts as well as improve quality of life.

Muse detects a full range of brainwave activity. Brainwaves are typically broken up into five bands, which Muse is capable of detecting the full spectrum of brainwave types:

  1. Gamma
  2. Beta
  3. Alpha
  4. Theta
  5. Delta

All of these brainwaves are used in making the analysis that Muse provides at the end of every session, giving you unique insights into every Muse session.

> Want more information on what Muse can do for you? LEARN MORE 

 

Sources:
  1. “Biofeedback.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 14 Jan. 2016, www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/biofeedback/about/pac-20384664.

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