Neurofeedback and Affective Disorders

M.A.Klados*, C. Styliadis*, C. Frantzidis*, E. Konstantidis*, A. Mpillis and P.D. Bamidis, 

Proceedings of ELEVIT2013 conference 

Abstract: Almost all the affective disorders are characterized by specific electroencephalographic (EEG) patterns. For  example, patients suffering from General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) seem to have lower alpha rhythm  compared to the normal ones [1]. Similarly, a common finding of depression is the alpha asymmetry in the prefrontal cortex. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)  may involve various different cortical regions such as pre-frontal cortex, where slow wave activity may be dominant, preventing the brain from inhibiting the bad  thoughts and actions. Another area that may be responsible for the OCD is the subcortical structures

between the right and the left frontal lobes, producing repetitive thoughts and urges.

 

Neurofeedback or EEG biofeedback seems to be an  effective intervention for treating various mental conditions like the aforementioned disorders. Neurofeedback is the process of teaching the brain to  normalize it’s electrophysiological abnormalities. During a session, the individual’s brain wave state is  monitored painlessly while he/she is sitting on a comfortable chair and playing a video-game which is controlled completely by his/her brain. For example, we  can use a rally game for training the brain to increase

alpha activity (used for GAD). The rally accelerates as much as the alpha activity is increased from a predefined threshold, while it slows down in the opposite case. When we “punish” the brain by slowing the car’s  speed, the brain seeks a way to get back into the desired pattern in order to be rewarded again. The brain does all this process unconsciously, and after several repetitions  we can stabilize the wanted pattern, in our example maintain the alpha brainwaves in a higher level than before.

 

Regarding the anxiety disorders, Moore [2] reviewed eight studies of GAD, three with phobic anxiety  disorder, two studies of obsessive–compulsive disorder, and one published report with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The general outcome of this review  was that the alpha training drops the anxiety scores significantly in contrast to non-treatment groups. Also Moore reports the presence of a placebo effect but the  enhancement of theta and alpha bands resulted to additional effects beyond the placebo and they are  considered as an effective treatment for anxiety disorders.

 

Compelling research evidence supports that there is a  neurophysiological background related to the depressive symptoms [3, 4]. Brain mapping studies, especially using quantitative EEG have found an asymmetry of the  alpha wave activity over the pre-frontal cortex [5]. The left prefrontal cortex is responsible for the processing of positive emotions and approach motivation, while the right one is more related with depression and fear  combined with the will to withdraw and avoid social interaction with other people. When alpha brainwaves are higher in left hemisphere reveal a relative  hypoactivation of the left prefrontal area, making the

right one more dominant.

 

So, the most common affective disorders, like anxiety  and depression, seem to have a neurophysiological basis, which can be exploited for their efficient treatment using neurofeedback. The new technological  insights, including low cost devices and easily operated software, provide us the opportunity to introduce  neurofeedback in a home-based setup as well as in educational environments in order to face learning disabilities.