Short-delay neurofeedback facilitates training of the parietal alpha rhythm
Objective: Feedback latency was shown to be a critical parameter in a range of applications that imply learning. The therapeutic effects of neurofeedback (NFB) remain controversial. We hypothesized that often encountered unreliable results of NFB intervention could be associated with large feedback latency values that are often uncontrolled and may preclude the efficient learning. Approach: We engaged our subjects into a parietal alpha power unpregulating paradigm faciliated by visual neurofeedback based on the invidually extracted envelope of the alpha-rhythm at P4 electrode. NFB was displayed either as soon as EEG envelope was processed, or with an extra 250 or 500-ms delay. The feedback training consisted of 15 two-minute long blocks interleaved with 15s pauses. We have also recorded two minute long baselines immediately before and after the training. Main results: The time course of NFB-induced changes in the alpha rhythm power clearly depended on NFB latency, as shown with the adaptive Neyman test. NFB had a strong effect on the alpha-spindle incidence rate, but not on their duration or amplitude. The sustained changes in alpha activity measured after the completion of NFB training were negatively correlated to latency, with the maximum change for the shortest tested latency and no change for the longest. Significance: Here we for the first time show that visual NFB of parietal electroencephalographic (EEG) alpha-activity is efficient only when delivered to human subjects at short latency, which guarantees that NFB arrives when an alpha spindle is still ongoing. Such a considerable effect of NFB latency on the alpha-activity temporal structure could explain some of the previous inconsistent results, where latency was neither controlled nor documented. Clinical practitioners and manufacturers of NFB equipment should add latency to their specifications while enabling latency monitoring and supporting short-latency operations.