Neurofeedback was discovered as a treatment for epilepsy in the late 1960s by Barry Sterman, a UCLA physiological psychologist. He was asked to determine why fighter pilots sometimes experienced seizures while flying their planes, and discovered that it was a chemical in the jet fuel (hydrazine) which triggered the seizures. While working on this project, he tried to induce seizures in some cats he had in his lab; some cats experienced seizures but others did not. He learned that the cats who did not experience seizures (when they should have) were ones which had been trained previously to increase certain brain waves in previous experiments. Sterman concluded that the place and frequency he had trained the cats (12-15hz at C4) seemed to be protective of seizures. His continued work led to eventually working with people, helping many to eliminate seizures in their life. The scientific details, theory and references of this work can be found in other sources (Sterman, 2000; Egner & Sterman, 2006; Thompson & Thompson, 2003). Neurofeedback continues to be a viable method of treatment for epilepsy (Yucha & Montgomery, 2008; Monastra, 2003).
I am sometimes asked if there is research supporting the use of neurofeedback for epilepsy. Below are some references. If you can add to this list or have corrections, please e mail me at email@example.com. – Dr. Thomas.
Andrews, D & Schonfeld, W (1992). Predictive factors for controlling seizures using a behavioural approach. Seizure, 1(2), 111-116.
Ayers, M (1988). Long-term clinical treatment follow-up of EEG neurofeedback for epilepsy. Epilepsy Support Program Newsletter, 3(2), 8-9.
Ayers, M (1995). Long-term follow-up of EEG neurofeedback with absence seizures. Biofeedback & Self-Regulation, 20(3), 309-310.
Birbaumer, N, Elbert, T, Rockstroh, B, Daum, I. Wolf, P & Canavan, A (1991). Clinical psychological treatment of epileptic seizures: A controlled study. Chap in A. Ehlers et al. (Eds.), Perspectives and Promises of Clinical Psychology. NY: Plenum Press.
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Elbert, T, Rockstroh, B, Canavan, A, Birbaumer, N, Lutzenberger, W, von Bulow, I & Linden, A (1990). Self-regulation of slow cortical potentials and its role in epileptogenesis. Chapter in J. Carlson & R. Seifert (Eds.), Biobehavioral Self-Regulation and Health. NY: Plenum Press.
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Kotchoubey, B, Strehl, U, Uhlmann, C, Holzapfel, S, Konig, M, Froscher, W, Blankenhorn, V & Birbaumer, N (2001). Modification of slow cortical potentials in patients with refractory epilepsy: A controlled outcome study. Epilepsia, 42(3), 406-416.
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Rockstroh, B, Elbert, T, Birbaumer, N, Wolf, P, Duchting-Roth, A, Reker, M, Daum, I, Lutzenberger, W & Dichgans, J (1993). Cortical self-regulation in patients with epilepsies. Epilepsy Research, 14. 63-72.
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Sterman, M (1973a). Neurophysiological and clinical studies of sensorimotor EEG biofeedback training: Some effects on epilepsy. Seminars in Psychiatry, 5(4), 507-525.
Sterman, M (1973b). Neurophysiological and clinical studies of sensorimotor EEG biofeedback training: Some effects on epilepsy. Chap in L. Birk (Ed.), Biofeedback: Behavioral Medicine. NY: Grune & Stratton, 147-165.
Sterman, M (1977). Sensorimotor EEG operant conditioning: Experimental and clinical effects. Pavlovian Journal of Biological Sciences, 12(2), 63-92.
Sterman, M (1986). Epilepsy and its treatment with EEG feedback therapy. Annals of Behav Medicine, 8, 21-25.
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Sterman, M & Friar, L (1972). Suppression of seizures in epileptics following sensorimotor EEG feedback training. Electroencephalography & Clinical Neurophysiology, 33, 89-95.
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Sterman, M & Shouse, M (1980). Quantitative analysis of training, sleep EEG and clinical response to EEG operant conditioning in epileptics. Electroencephalography & Clinical Neurophysiology, 49, 558-576.
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