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Financial Times Foresees Neurofeedback in the Boardroom

Publication date: 27 May 2013

A recent article in the Financial Times predicted executive job candidates presenting their own brain scans as evidence of their aptitude, having already addressed their brain profile deficiencies with neurofeedback training.

Actually this vision is already a reality, to a degree. Neurofeedback is not just a therapy but a tool for training optimal performance. Both neurofeedback and biofeedback are used by athletes, artists, executives and other high achievers for attaining peak performance. An example is the personal story of Dave Asprey, the "bulletproof executive" who "hacked"  his own biology in a (successful) attempt to upgrade his brain - using not just neurofeedback and biofeedback but targeted brain nutrition as well.

The FT is also close to mark in that neurofeedback is best guided by some form of brain assessment, so that neurofeedback training can be targetted.

But the FT portrays a darker side to neurofeedback - I think unfairly. The writer sees neurofeedback training as 'tinkering' or 'reprogramming' the brain. Behind this is perhaps the view that the neurofeedback trainee is the passive recipient of some kind of manipulation designed by a clever brain engineer who rather arrogantly thinks he knows what's best for your brain. It's a view that seems to be held by some neurofeedback therapists.

An alternative, and I think a more accurate, view of how biofeedback works is that it stimulates the brain to change itself by challenging it. Weight training in itself doesn't build muscles (in fact it slightly damages them) but the body responds to the challenge by directing its resources to repairing and enhancing the muscles in the time after the exercise. I think something like this happens with biofeedback and neurofeedback. The training challenges the brain, and stimulates its inherent neuroplasticity - in the time after training.

Non-biofeedback methods such as mindfulness probably work in the same way. Mindfulness could be seen as a form of brain training, but no-one would consider it manipulative or tinkering.

In this view it's less important for the biofeedback therapist to judge exactly what is wrong with the brain and exactly how it needs to change. The exercise (or challenge) can be more general.

HEG neurofeedback is an example of a method that fits this model. It is a very simple and very general kind of training, that doesn't necessarily need a brain scan. I often describe it to my clients as a way of exercising the "muscle" of the prefrontal cortex (the brain's executive area).

We can find a parallel to these two models of neurofeedback in two more general models of health care: firstly, drug therapy, and secondly nutrition-based integrative therapy. Both can be applied to optimal performance too. In the former, "smart" drugs can be used to somewhat manipulatively target brain chemistry changes based on external judgements of what is needed (e.g. students using ritalin to boost their exam performance). In the latter approach, you supply nutrients that are natural raw materials for brain chemistry and trust the brain to do the rest. I know which approach I'd rather take.

(By the way here's a link to the Financial Times neurofeedback article.)

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