Harvard Mental Health Letter

Neurofeedback for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Neurofeedback is an investigational therapy being tested and marketed for a variety of psychiatric and substance abuse disorders. Most of the research on neurofeedback has evaluated its use for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although sometimes likened to physical therapy for the brain, neurofeedback is actually a form of biofeedback. The goal is to help a patient learn how to control an unconscious physiological function — in this case, electrical activity in the brain. In psychological terms, neurofeedback attempts operant conditioning, in which a person learns to modify behavior based on rewards and other consequences. About two dozen studies have been published about neurofeedback for ADHD, and many have reported promising results. But most of them involved only small numbers of patients, were not randomized, and lacked a placebo intervention. As such, they lacked controls for confounding mechanisms such as attention training or bias on the part of investigators or participants. Only three randomized controlled studies have been published on neurofeedback for ADHD and are available through Medline. The most recent, also the best designed, reported positive results, although questions remain.
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