Intermittent compared to continuous real-time fMRI neurofeedback boosts control over amygdala activation

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Real-time fMRI neurofeedback is a feasible tool to learn the volitional regulation of brain activity. So far, most studies provide continuous feedback information that is presented upon every volume acquisition. Although this maximizes the temporal resolution of feedback information, it may be accompanied by some disadvantages. Participants can be distracted from the regulation task due to (1) the intrinsic delay of the hemodynamic response and associated feedback and (2) limited cognitive resources available to simultaneously evaluate feedback information and stay engaged with the task. Here, we systematically investigate differences between groups presented with different variants of feedback (continuous vs. intermittent) and a control group receiving no feedback on their ability to regulate amygdala activity using positive memories and feelings. In contrast to the feedback groups, no learning effect was observed in the group without any feedback presentation. The group receiving intermittent feedback exhibited better amygdala regulation performance when compared with the group receiving continuous feedback. Behavioural measurements show that these effects were reflected in differences in task engagement. Overall, we not only demonstrate that the presentation of feedback is a prerequisite to learn volitional control of amygdala activity but also that intermittent feedback is superior to continuous feedback presentation.HighlightsComparison of continuous vs. intermittent real-time fMRI neurofeedback in amygdala.Feedback is necessary to learn volitional regulation of amygdala activity.Intermittent feedback presentation outperforms continuous feedback during training runs.Behavioral data show analogous differences in task engagement between conditions.Results are promising for connectivity-based rt-fMRI neurofeedback approaches.

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