If you’re looking for a productive way to spend your time then you might want to try out a scandalously cool technique called neurofeedback, which enables people to gain control over their brain activity. While this bio-hack has been around for a while, new research suggests that a single hour-long session of neurofeedback is enough to alter the very structure of the brain, thereby changing the way it functions.
Participants in the study wore electrode hats that used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure their brain activity in real-time. They were then asked to try to activate the sensorimotor network in their brains by imagining that they were tapping their fingers, while remaining completely still. Visual cues on a computer screen indicated when the desired brain regions were activated, effectively providing a window into each participant’s brain and enabling them to quickly hone the technique.
The results, which appear in the journal Neuroimage, reveal that noticeable changes to the structure of the white matter in the sensorimotor network can be detected after just one hour of neurofeedback.
White matter is a type of brain tissue that contains the axons, which carry electrical signals between neurons. Alterations to its structure therefore affect the patterns of communication around the brain, known as functional connectivity.
The researchers note that these changes were most prominent at the level of the corpus callosum, which connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The fMRI data also showed that connectivity in this region was strengthened, meaning participants’ control over this part of their brain had increased.
Lead author Fernanda Tovar Moll said in a statement that “neurofeedback can be considered a powerful tool to induce brain changes at record speed. Now, our goal is to develop new studies to test whether patients with neurological disorders can also benefit from it.” For instance, by improving the structural and functional connectivity of the sensorimotor network, it may be possible to help people who have suffered strokes to regain their motor skills.
Neurofeedback has also been touted as a possible treatment for emotional disorders like depression, as well as some chronic pain conditions, by enabling sufferers to consciously alter activity in the associated brain regions.
While more research is needed to figure out how neurofeedback can most effectively be used to treat these conditions, this study raises the possibility of condensing years of therapy and rehabilitation into just one hour.