The Psychology of Neurofeedback: Clinical Intervention Even if Applied Placebo

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Abstract

Advocates of neurofeedback make bold claims concerning brain regulation, treatment of disorders, and mental health. Decades of research and thousands of peer-reviewed publications support neurofeedback using electroencephalography (EEG-nf); yet, few experiments isolate the act of receiving feedback from a specific brain signal as a necessary precursor to obtain the purported benefits. Moreover, while psychosocial parameters including participant motivation and expectation, rather than neurobiological substrates, seem to fuel clinical improvement across a wide range of disorders, for-profit clinics continue to sprout across North America and Europe. Here, we highlight the tenuous evidence supporting EEG-nf and sketch out the weaknesses of this approach. We challenge classic arguments often articulated by proponents of EEG-nf and underscore how psychologists and mental health professionals stand to benefit from studying the ubiquitous placebo influences that likely drive these treatment outcomes.

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