California Educator

February 2015

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 11 of 67

Feature P H O T O G R A P H Y B Y S C O T T B U S C H M A N For the moment, the spacecraft is zooming along, while Wirt grooves to music from his headset. But if his concentration falters, the ship changes speed and direction, the screen will go black, and the music will stop. While it seems like a simple video game, Wirt is actually training his brain to perform better using a technique known as neurofeedback. Wirt has wires attached to his scalp called electrodes. They send readings of his brainwaves to a computer. The brain activity can be displayed on either the game screen or a separate screen. During the 30-minute session, he concentrates intently on keeping the spaceship aloft. But it's really about teaching his brain how to function at a higher capacity, by rewarding it for good behavior. It takes concentration and focus, he explains later, and doesn't work if you try too hard. Basically, you have to let your brain find its own path to per- forming one of the program's virtual tasks, which might involve propelling a spaceship, making a dolphin jump through hoops, riding a jet ski or steering a race car. The brain is also rewarded with positive reinforcement via sounds or tactile stimulation, such as a vibrating teddy bear. "Neurofeedback improves my focus and concentration," says Wirt, a research assistant in the university's neuroscience lab. "The benefits carry over into schoolwork. After participating in a neurofeedback session, I concentrate better in class. Whatever my professor has to say that day is definitely more interesting." It also helps decrease anxiety, says Wirt, who credits neurofeedback with helping him quit smoking a few months ago. "It's fascinating, and it works," says the psychology major. "After a few sessions, you feel an elevated sense of perception about your surroundings. It's as if you are driving a car and you know, somehow, exactly what's hap- pening two cars behind you." The wave of the future While neurofeedback may be helpful for enhancing Wirt's overall sense of well-being, it also has the ability to help individuals become more functional if they have learning disabilities, brain disorders, migraines, autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, behavior problems and post-traumatic stress disorder, says Jose Antonio Paulino Abara, Califor- nia Faculty Association, CSU Northridge, who oversees the lab. While neurofeedback has been around for years, Neurofeedback actually allows the brain to train itself, says Jose Antonio Paulino Abara, pointing to student Ryan Wirt. 10

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of California Educator - February 2015