Are treatment effects of neurofeedback training in children with ADHD related to the successful regulation of brain activity? A review on the learning of regulation of brain activity and a contribution to the discussion on specificity.
Research paper by
Agnieszka A Zuberer, Daniel D Brandeis, Renate R Drechsler
While issues of efficacy and specificity are crucial for the future of neurofeedback training, there may be alternative designs and control analyses to circumvent the methodological and ethical problems associated with double-blind placebo studies. Surprisingly, most NF studies do not report the most immediate result of their NF training, i.e., whether or not children with ADHD gain control over their brain activity during the training sessions. For the investigation of specificity, however, it seems essential to analyze the learning and adaptation processes that take place in the course of the training and to relate improvements in self-regulated brain activity across training sessions to behavioral, neuropsychological and electrophysiological outcomes. To this aim, a review of studies on neurofeedback training with ADHD patients which include the analysis of learning across training sessions or relate training performance to outcome is presented. Methods on how to evaluate and quantify learning of EEG regulation over time are discussed. "Non-learning" has been reported in a small number of ADHD-studies, but has not been a focus of general methodological discussion so far. For this reason, selected results from the brain-computer interface (BCI) research on the so-called "brain-computer illiteracy", the inability to gain control over one's brain activity, are also included. It is concluded that in the discussion on specificity, more attention should be devoted to the analysis of EEG regulation performance in the course of the training and its impact on clinical outcome. It is necessary to improve the knowledge on characteristic cross-session and within-session learning trajectories in ADHD and to provide the best conditions for learning.