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Controlling Thoughts By Watching Brain in Action

Controlling Thoughts By Watching Brain in ActionBiofeedback is a technique used for over 50 years to control muscular activity, relieve stress and reduce migraines. New research investigates what could be the next step: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) feedback of our brain in action helping us regulate thoughts.

Some researchers believe brain activity feedback could potentially improve everyday life tasks by helping an individual concentrate on personal or professional matters. Another application could be an improved ability to be aware of, and control one’s thoughts among individuals with depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

The fMRI feedback could complement feedback provided by a therapist or a patient’s own monitoring ability.

In the study, University of British Columbia researchers discovered that the feedback helps people can gain greater control over their thoughts.

The unique intervention involved fMRI feedback from areas of the brain responsible for higher level thought. Researchers wanted to know if the feedback would help individuals control the thoughts and in essence, “train their brains.”

“Just like athletes in training benefit from a coach’s guidance, feedback from our brain can help us to be more aware of our thoughts,” said co-author Kalina Christoff, Ph.D.

“Our findings suggest that the ability to control our thinking improves when we know how the corresponding area in our brain is behaving.”

Researchers asked participants to perform tasks that either required more or less mental contemplation in 30 second intervals over four, six-minute sessions.

Participants with access to real-time fMRI feedback could see their brain activity increase during introspection and decrease during non-introspective thoughts, such as mental tasks that focused on body sensations.

These participants used the feedback to guide their thoughts, which significantly improved their ability to control their thoughts and successfully perform the mental tasks.

In contrast, participants given inaccurate or no brain feedback did not achieve any improvement in brain regulation.

The study is published in the journal NeuroImage.

“When participants saw their brain reacting to their thoughts, they knew whether they were performing the task well or poorly, and they could adjust their thoughts accordingly,” said co-author Graeme McCaig. “As a result, participants who received the real-time feedback were able to focus on the mental task more consistently.”

Source: University of British Columbia

Controlling Thoughts By Watching Brain in Action

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Controlling Thoughts By Watching Brain in Action. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 11 Apr 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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