The History Of Neurofeedback

Image of a futuristic brain levitating over a computer while the history of neurofeedback is explained

Written By: Dr. Starr, MD, FAACAP

Dr. Starr is a medical doctor, psychiatrist and computational neuroscientist who has been active in Brain-Computer Interface and Neurofeedback since 1990.

To learn more about neurofeedback, please read the article; What Is Neurofeedback. If you are interested in home neurofeedback please read the article; Neurofeedback At Home.

History of Neurofeedback: From Discovery to Modern Applications

Neurofeedback has emerged as a groundbreaking modality for improving brain function and treating various psychological and neurological conditions. Its journey from early scientific discoveries to modern applications reflects significant strides in our understanding of the brain and its capacity for self-regulation and plasticity. This article delves into the history of neurofeedback, the influential figures who pioneered its development, and its contemporary applications, enriched with expert insights and case studies.

Key Milestones in the History of Neurofeedback

1920s: The Discovery of Brain Waves

The history of neurofeedback can be traced back to the 1920s, with the discovery of brain waves by German psychiatrist Hans Berger. Berger’s introduction of the electroencephalogram (EEG) marked a significant milestone in neuroscience, as it allowed scientists to measure electrical activity in the brain and laid the groundwork for future neurofeedback research.

1960s: Barry Sterman’s Pioneering Research

In the 1960s, Barry Sterman, a researcher at UCLA, conducted pivotal experiments that led to the development of neurofeedback as a therapeutic tool. Sterman’s work with cats demonstrated that operant conditioning could be used to alter brain wave patterns, reducing the frequency of epileptic seizures. This groundbreaking research was later translated to human subjects, establishing neurofeedback as a potential treatment for epilepsy.

1970s: Neurofeedback and ADHD

The 1970s saw another significant advancement with the publication of “EEG Biofeedback: A New Treatment for Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” by Joel Lubar. Lubar’s pioneering work marked the first clinical use of neurofeedback for ADHD, demonstrating its effectiveness in improving attention and reducing hyperactive behaviors in children.

1980s: Computerization of Neurofeedback

The introduction of computerized systems in the 1980s revolutionized neurofeedback, making it more accessible and precise. These advancements allowed practitioners to provide real-time feedback to patients, enhancing the effectiveness of neurofeedback protocols.

1990s: Expanded Use and Mainstream Acceptance

During the 1990s, neurofeedback’s applications expanded to include anxiety, depression, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Increased research and clinical trials contributed to its growing acceptance in mainstream healthcare. Notable figures like Bessel van der Kolk championed the use of neurofeedback for trauma-related conditions, further validating its efficacy.

2000s: Technological Advancements

The 2000s brought significant technological advancements, leading to more sophisticated neurofeedback protocols and devices. These innovations enhanced the accuracy and customization of neurofeedback treatments, broadening its therapeutic potential.

2010s: Integration into Wellness and Peak Performance

The integration of neurofeedback into wellness and peak performance marked a new era in the 2010s. Athletes, musicians, and professionals began using neurofeedback to optimize cognitive and emotional skills, demonstrating its versatility beyond clinical settings.

Influential Figures in the History of Neurofeedback

Several key figures have significantly contributed to the development and advancement of neurofeedback:

  • Hans Berger: Discovered brain waves and introduced the EEG.
  • Barry Sterman: Conducted pioneering research on neurofeedback for epilepsy.
  • Joel Lubar: Pioneered the use of neurofeedback for ADHD.
  • Bessel van der Kolk: Advocated for neurofeedback in treating trauma-related conditions.
  • Dr. Fred Starr: Contributed to the clinical applications of remote neurofeedback.

Modern Applications of Neurofeedback

Today, neurofeedback is employed to address a wide range of psychological and neurological conditions. Its non-invasive nature and effectiveness make it a valuable tool for:

1. ADHD Treatment

Neurofeedback continues to be a highly effective treatment for ADHD in both children and adults. By training the brain to regulate its activity, individuals experience improved focus, reduced impulsivity, and better behavioral control.

2. Anxiety Management

Neurofeedback helps manage various anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorders. By promoting relaxation and self-regulation, patients can achieve long-term relief from anxiety symptoms.

3. Depression Therapy

Depression and mood disorders can be effectively treated with neurofeedback, offering a non-invasive alternative or complement to medication. Patients often report enhanced mood stability and emotional resilience.

4. Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation

For individuals recovering from TBIs, neurofeedback promotes brain plasticity and functional recovery. It aids in regaining cognitive functions and improving overall quality of life.

5. Peak Performance Enhancement

Athletes, musicians, and professionals use neurofeedback to optimize cognitive and emotional skills, achieving peak performance in their respective fields. This application highlights neurofeedback’s potential in enhancing human potential.

6. Sleep Disorders

Neurofeedback aids in improving sleep quality and patterns, providing relief for those suffering from sleep disorders. By regulating brain activity, individuals can enjoy restful and rejuvenating sleep.

7. PTSD and Trauma

Neurofeedback is a key component in comprehensive treatment strategies for PTSD and other trauma-related conditions. It helps patients process and integrate traumatic experiences, fostering recovery and resilience.

8. Addiction Management

By modifying brain function and reducing cravings, neurofeedback supports addiction management and recovery. It offers a holistic approach to overcoming substance dependence.

9. Cognitive Disorders

Neurofeedback offers potential benefits for memory, attention, and executive functions, making it a valuable tool for managing cognitive disorders and age-related cognitive decline.

Case Studies and Success Stories

ADHD Improvement: Sarah’s Story

Sarah, a 10-year-old diagnosed with ADHD, struggled with focus and impulsivity. After undergoing neurofeedback sessions, her parents noticed significant improvements in her attention span and behavior. Sarah’s academic performance also improved, showcasing the transformative power of neurofeedback for ADHD.

Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery: John’s Journey

John, a former athlete, suffered a traumatic brain injury that impacted his cognitive functions. Through consistent neurofeedback therapy, John experienced notable improvements in memory, attention, and overall cognitive abilities. His recovery journey highlights neurofeedback’s potential in TBI rehabilitation.

Anxiety Management Success: Maria’s Experience

Maria, a professional dealing with chronic anxiety, turned to neurofeedback for relief. Over several months of therapy, Maria gained better control over her anxiety symptoms, leading to improved professional and personal life quality. Her story underscores neurofeedback’s effectiveness in managing anxiety disorders.

Expert Insights on Neurofeedback

A Paradigm Shift in Brain Health

“The journey of neurofeedback from its early discoveries to modern applications represents a paradigm shift in our approach to brain health and performance.”

— Dr. Michael J. Keane, Neurologist and Researcher

Brain Self-Regulation and Lasting Change

“Neurofeedback is not just a tool for managing symptoms; it fundamentally aids the brain to self-regulate, offering hope and lasting change for many conditions.”

— Dr. Sarah H. Lin, Clinical Psychologist

Integration of Technology and Neuroscience

“The integration of technology and neuroscience in neurofeedback has opened new frontiers in mental health care, offering a personalized and effective approach to brain training.”

— Prof. Alex R. Wong, Biomedical Engineer

Enhancing Human Potential

“As we continue to refine our understanding of brain plasticity, neurofeedback stands as a powerful modality for enhancing human potential across various domains, from health to performance.”

— Dr. Emily K. Foster, Cognitive Neuropsychologist


The history of neurofeedback includes Neurofeedback’s evolution from its early scientific roots to its modern applications showcases its transformative potential for brain health and performance. As technology continues to advance, neurofeedback will likely play an increasingly vital role in mental health care, rehabilitation, and peak performance. By understanding its history and applications, we can appreciate the profound impact neurofeedback has on improving lives and unlocking human potential.

For those interested in exploring the benefits of neurofeedback, the possibilities are vast and promising. Whether managing a specific condition or seeking to optimize cognitive and emotional skills, neurofeedback offers a path to a healthier, more balanced brain.

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