Psychologists at the UK’s Swansea University have been conducting new research looking at ways to help people reduce anxiety in everyday life – by teaching them how to control their brain activity.
The research is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Portsmouth, with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.
Anxiety can be extremely debilitating and keep people from living productive, full lives, but through a process called ‘neurofeedback’, people can reduce their anxiety and rid themselves of intrusive and negative thoughts.
Neurofeedback is also known as EEG Biofeedback, and is based on the brain’s electrical activity, the electroencephalogram (EEG). It is a painless, non-invasive method that allows people to modify their brainwave activity, and can improve concentration and attention-span, as well as reduce impulsivity and control hyperactive behaviors.
Basically, the technique trains the brain to regulate and adjust itself to function more efficiently. During the training program, people learn over time to control a computer game or produce sounds by changing specific aspects of their own brainwave activity.
Psychologists apply electrodes to the subject’s scalp, picking up their brain activity. The activity is monitored and fed into a computer for processing and analysis. The computer extracts information from the brain signals about certain brainwave frequencies.
Changes in the brain signals are then fed back to the client by the computer, either visually to a monitor in front of them or as sounds through headphones. If their brain activity changes in the direction specified by the neurofeedback trainer, a positive reward feedback is given to them.
According to Dr. Soren Andersen of Swansea University’s School of Human Sciences, Neurofeedback has been around for about 30 years, and has been successfully employed for conditions like epilepsy and ADD/ADHD but the technique is relatively unknown in Britain.
Dr. Roger Moore, a psychologists at the University of Portsmouth, adds, “Ultimately, we are trying to develop a neurofeedback treatment for anxiety which has its roots in over 40 years of theory and research – the end result will be a non-drug based intervention, which has a sound, scientific basis.”
Professor Philip Corr, also of Swansea’s School of Human Sciences, called the new application of recent scientific advances “exciting” and that new ways of understand how the brain controls emotional experiences “…shows how knowledge of fundamental brain systems can have very real benefits in terms of reducing distressing psychological states of worry and anxiety.”
It’s likely this will be only the beginning of a new technology that allows people to learn how to regulate their own brain states and thus control the emotions directed by these states.