Researchers from the University of Rochester have found that real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) neurofeedback training has a positive impact on mental health outcomes.
Real-time fMRI neurofeedback has been around for a few years as an experimental treatment for mental health conditions, including depression, schizophrenia, and PTSD. Until now, however, there has been no quantitive review on how effective it is at relieving mental health symptoms.
For the study, the researchers examined 17 relevant studies made from a total of 410 participants that investigated the potential for real-time fMRI neurofeedback to improve mental health outcomes. All in all, they reviewed neurofeedback in two contexts. In one, participants regulated their brain’s response while receiving neurofeedback during training sessions. In the other, participants were monitored without neurofeedback to see if previously learned regulation from neurofeedback was maintained in daily activities.
From investigating the first context, the researchers found that patients with a range of mental illnesses were able to use neurofeedback to regulate their neural activity in targeted regions of the brain. Meanwhile, in the second context, the researchers found that participants were often able to intentionally control certain areas of the brain even without neurofeedback.
Ultimately, however, they found that while real-time fMRI neurofeedback has moderate impacts on targeted regions during training, the impact becomes more prominent later on when neurofeedback is withdrawn. This is important as it infers that neurofeedback training in this way may have therapeutic value that transgresses into daily life.
Among mental health conditions, they found that the novel neurofeedback technique was particularly effective in improving symptoms in conditions such as anxiety, depression, and psychosis. They found, for example, that neurofeedback could improve responses in stressful situations involving fear, anxiety, and loss.
All in all, the researchers say that their data suggests that real-time fMRI neurofeedback can have a positive impact on various mental health conditions, although more research is needed to understand its mechanisms. Now, the researchers are conducting a study to see whether they are able to train people with schizophrenia to self-regulate regions of the brain responsible for social information processing. Preliminary results in this study are reportedly promising.