Brain Basics and Neurofeedback

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The brain is a wonderfully complicated, three pound organ that controls all functions in our body. Our brain controls everything from automatic functions, such as breathing and controlling hunger, to higher functions, such as planning and organizing. Our brain interprets information from the outside world through our five senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing, and assembles that information in a way that makes sense for us, and can be encoded and stored into memories. Thanks to continuing advancements research, we continue to learn more and more about the brain and its complexities in functioning. Here, we will cover just a few of the different areas of the brain in order to better understand the influence our brain has on our day to day lives and how it is related to Neurofeedback.

The Cerebrum, Cerebellum, and Brainstem

The brain is made up of many different parts that work together, but each part is an expert in the job they have been designed to do. The brain is composed of three main parts, the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem, with many other systems in place within these three main parts.

The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain and what we usually picture when we think about the brain. It is composed of the left and right hemispheres that are joined together by the corpus callosum, which allows messages to be transmitted from one hemisphere to the other. These messages are called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters and sent and received by our brain cells called Neurons. There is a saying that, “neurons that fire together, wire together”, meaning that the more that certain neurons communicate with each other, they begin to generate neural pathways. These pathways and connections can change and are influenced by our experiences, and which is why our brains are referred to as having neural plasticity. This explains why long time habits are hard to change, but also shows us that we have the ability to influence these pathways with our behaviors and actions. The left hemisphere is commonly referred to as our “logical brain” as it is responsible for analytic thought, logic, language, numbers and reasoning. The right hemisphere is known for being the more artistic and creative brain as it is involved in creativity, imagination, intuition, and emotional intelligence.

The cerebrum contains the cerebral cortex, which is made up of tightly packed neurons, or brain cells, and is the wrinkly outermost layer of the brain. The cerebral cortex can be divided into four different lobes.

  • The occipital lobe is responsible for processing visual information from the eyes.

  • The temporal lobe is responsible for processing auditory information.

  • The parietal lobe is responsible for processing information that has to do with taste, touch, or temperature.

  • The prefrontal-cortex is different from the occipital, temporal, and parietal lobes as is it not directly involved with processing sensory input. In fact, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher order mental functions such as judgement, decision making, planning, future-oriented thinking, and time management.

Research has shown that in those individuals diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), there are often correlating issues with the prefrontal cortex, such as decreased activity, decreased size, or under-regulation. The prefrontal cortex is also one of the last parts of our brains to develop, and does not become fully developed until we are about 25 years old. This is especially helpful to remember when thinking about children and teens when “problem” behaviors like impulsivity and poor decision making are common. They lack the part of their brain that helps them slow down and make informed choices about what is right or wrong, mediate conflict, or predict probable outcomes of an event.

The cerebellum is located under the cerebrum and is involved in muscle coordination, balance, and posture. The brainstem connects the cerebrum and cerebellum to the spinal cord and regulates automatic functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and wake and sleep cycles.

The Limbic System

The Limbic System is another complex set of structures located just underneath cerebrum, compromising inner sections of both the frontal and temporal lobes. The limbic system combines higher mental functions, such as learning and formation of memory, and primitive emotions into a single system. The Amygdala and Hippocampus are two of the major structures within the limbic system.

The Amygdala is a small, almond shaped structure responsible for assessing and processing the emotional valence of a situation. The amygdala is the part of the brain that is especially good at detecting fear and as a result, activates our fight, flight, or freeze mode, in order to protect ourselves from the detected fear. Although this part of the brain is designed to protect us from danger, overactivation of the amygdala can cause problems for people. For example, research shows that people who struggle with Anxiety disorders often have hyperactive amygdalas, which is responsible for the overestimation of fearful or dangerous situations that those with Anxiety disorders often struggle with.

The Hippocampus plays a critical role in the formation, organization, and storage of new memories as well as connecting sensory input and emotions to those memories. Damage to this area of the brain can result of loss of memory and difficulty establishing new memories.

Researchers have been interested in the role that PTSD plays on the limbic system and vice versa. Research has found that there is reduced volume and activity in the hippocampus and increased activity in the amygdala. This explain why those with PTSD often have trouble remembering certain details of the traumatic event or often experience intensely vivid and always present memories of their trauma. The increased activity in the amygdala promotes hypervigilance and impairs the ability to discriminate threatening and non threatening stimuli.

How is this related to Neurofeedback Treatment?

All of this information on the brain and its functioning determines Neurofeedback treatment. For example, if an individual struggles with emotional reactivity and regulation, treatment would include electrode sites on the right side of the brain. If negative thoughts are a common symptom, treatment would include electrode sites on the front-left part of the brain. Neurofeedback works to optimize your brain functioning at these specific sites, based off self-reported symptoms.

Contact us today to hear more information about Neurofeedback and how training your brain may help yourself or a loved one with symptoms you or she may be struggling with .

~Written by Alex Stautzenbach, M.A.

References:

https://www.additudemag.com/adhd-brain-prefrontal-cortex-attention-emotions/

Sherin, J. E., & Nemeroff, C. B. (2011). Post-traumatic stress disorder: the neurobiological impact of psychological trauma. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 13(3), 263-78.

Improving Your Focus

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Much of what we read on the Internet are tips on how to concentrate, or what to do in order to stay focused. However, these tips tend to be counter-intuitive, due to the fact that they are working against the nature of the brain. 

Through research, psychologists have used science to understand the way the brain works. To much surprise, behaviors we have always been told to not do, such as zone out, can actually make concentrating on a boring task a little more bearable. Our frontal cortex is responsible for staying concentrated and ignoring distraction. At some point, this region of the brain becomes over worked and requires a break in order to rejuvenate. 

Zoning out is one of the most important processes in allowing your brain to refuel. There is deliberate and accidental mind wandering. Deliberate mind wandering allows you to take a break from your work task and clear your mind of something else. It is a way to distract your mind while still being productive. Another tip to staying focused is to muck about. Although funny videos on the Internet are often the best form of procrastination, watching a humorous video is a great way to replenish our brain. It has been proven that a "playful" environment encourages production more successfully than a "relaxed" environment. 

Something we have all be taught is to eliminate all distractions. When taking a test in school we must clear off our desk, at work it is important to stay organized and pristine. On the contrary, having other distractions surrounding you allows your brain to concentrate on the most important one. This may be different for everyone, requiring some trial and error, but finding the perfect balance can keep your mind focused on what is important. Another important tip is to take a break. Sometimes you just want to get the task over with, but our brain can only work for so long. Exercise and meditation are two great ways to step aside from your project and let your brain rest. If these aren't possible at the time, looking out the window and treating yourself with some caffeine can do the trick as well. Finally, don't try too hard. When you rely on brain to focus only on one task for extended periods of time, your outcome won't be as successful as it could be. It is important to allow yourself plenty of time to complete the task, relax, and let your brain do it's work. 

If your focus still has not improved enough to meet your goals, your brain may need some training. Neurofeedback can train your brain to regulate, stabilize and focus itself so you're able to concentrate better on your tasks or follow directions that are given to you.

Contact us for more information on how Neurofeedback can help you and your family find the focus you need to function at your best.

Reference: Williams, C. (2017). Five ways science can improve your focus. BBC. 

~Written by Allison Parker and Tanya L. Hilber, PsyD

Neurocounseling

Bradley University and their counseling department recently compiled studies on neurofeedback and neurocounseling. This is their infographic to show, at a glance, the results of research and studies.

Neurocounseling: Bridging the Gap between Brain and Behavior