People provided with a real-time readout of their brain activity can learn to control that activity and decrease their anxiety, according to a new study.
For the study, researchers at Yale University used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to display the activity of the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region just above the eyes, to people while they lay in a brain scanner.
Through a process of trial and error, these people were able to learn to control their brain activity, the researchers report.
This neurofeedback led to changes in brain connectivity and to increased control over anxiety.
What’s more, these changes were still present several days after the training, the researchers said.
“Poorly controlled anxiety reduces the quality of life of many healthy individuals and is a key symptom of numerous neuropsychiatric conditions,” the researchers said in the study, which was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
“Pharmacological and behavioral interventions are widely used in the treatment of anxiety, but for many individuals these are of little efficacy or are associated with troublesome side effects.”
Hyperactivity in the orbitofrontal cortex is common for people with poorly controlled anxiety or other conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), according to the researchers.
fMRI-driven neurofeedback has been used before for other conditions, but it has never been applied to the treatment of anxiety, the researchers add.
The findings raise the possibility that real-time fMRI feedback may provide an effective form of treatment for anxiety and OCD.
The study was conducted by Michelle Hampson, Ph.D., assistant professor of diagnostic radiology, and Dustin Scheinost, a graduate student.
Source: Yale University