What is the Connection Between Biofeedback and Neurofeedback?

V. Cassiopia

The brain uses conscious and unconscious processes to govern body activities. For example, a decision to flex a muscle directs and controls a consciously willed process. In contrast, the regulation of most body functions, such as the heart rate, is largely an unconscious process. Biofeedback and neurofeedback programs are an attempt to access and interact with these unseen brain functions in efforts to better study the controlling activity of the brain. Electroencephalography, or EEG, recordings are one primary method of representing this otherwise unseen brain activity.

A boy connected to an EEG machine, which provides biofeedback.
A boy connected to an EEG machine, which provides biofeedback.

Biofeedback and neurofeedback programs use data obtained by EEGs and other apparatuses, to visualize, measure, and quantify specific areas of brain activity, with the objective of manipulating this activity by interacting with it. Both programs utilize methods developed by modern technology to obtain this data. Additionally, both programs rely upon brain-body interaction, or feedback, for obtaining and interpreting information.

The brain controls bodily functions and activities using both conscious and unconscious processes.
The brain controls bodily functions and activities using both conscious and unconscious processes.

Biofeedback, however, concentrates upon the general techniques of obtaining data by body activity measurement, such as heart rate, blood pressure, the degree of tenseness in muscles, and skin warmth. For example, electromyography is used to measure muscle tension, and this is shown on computer monitors; those participating in the programs learn how to observe and change detrimental reaction patterns, such as muscle tightness caused by stress. Additionally, EEG biofeedback — also called neurotherapy, or neurobiofeedback — uses the principle of self-control to help achieve these goals through breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.

An EEG involves the use of electrodes attached to the skin for recording electrical impulses while an EMG involves the insertion of needles into the muscles that will be tested.
An EEG involves the use of electrodes attached to the skin for recording electrical impulses while an EMG involves the insertion of needles into the muscles that will be tested.

Both biofeedback and neurofeedback programs are similar in that they use neurotherapy to gain control over unconscious or unknown processes of the mind. Neurofeedback, however, is a specific type of biofeedback program that uses real time EEG displays to show brain activity on a video monitor, rather than later recordings of the event, such as on an EEG printout. The objective of this biofeedback type is to challenge the brain to function in a way that alleviates past problems with body functions. For example, it has been credited with resolving such problems as headaches — particularly migraines — and chronic pain.

Biofeedback techniques may help reduce the frequency of migraine headaches.
Biofeedback techniques may help reduce the frequency of migraine headaches.

Both types of biofeedback — general biofeedback and neurofeedback — began in the late 1960s with participation from psychological specialists such as those from the Menninger Clinic. Biofeedback therapeutic groups began to form in the mid 1970s. Biofeedback therapy has been compared to physical strengthening regimens, where exercise is used to tone and strengthen the body’s muscular system. In a similar way, biofeedback uses mental therapy to achieve this control, and it has similarly been termed a “training session for the brain,” in which some of the brain’s features are addressed, exercised, and toned.

An electroencephalogram -- or EEG -- machine measures electrical impulse activity in the brain and can help give a diagnosis for conditions such as epilepsy.
An electroencephalogram -- or EEG -- machine measures electrical impulse activity in the brain and can help give a diagnosis for conditions such as epilepsy.

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Discussion Comments

bluedolphin

I had an EMG (electromyography) test done this week to test the function of my nerves. It' a biofeedback test where they insert needles into your arm or leg and measure electrical activity in the muscles. It wasn't the most fun medical test I've had to undergo, but it was very useful. I found out that I don't have important nerve damage.

burcinc

@fify-- Neurofeedback is used in the treatment of ADHD, but some biofeedback methods are used as well.

Neurofeedback for ADHD measures an individual's brainwaves and shows them on a monitor. When the individual produces beta brainwaves, which are present during alertness, positive changes occur on screen. When the individual produces theta waves, which are often present in those suffering from ADHD, negative changes occur on the screen.

Neurofeedback tries to get the individual to produce more beta waves. But in order for this to occur, biofeedback treatments may be used like relaxation methods.

fify
Which program -- biofeedback or neurofeedback -- is used for ADD or ADHD?
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