The Temporal Dynamics of Electroencephalographic Responses to Alpha/Theta Neurofeedback Training in Healthy Subjects


  • Tobias Egner
  • John H. Gruzelier



Background. It has been shown recently that accurate feedback of alpha and theta electroencephalographic (EEG) activity, as employed in the commonly used “alpha/theta protocol,” induced linear increments in within-session theta-over-alpha ratios in comparison to non-contingent feedback in a healthy sample. These data verify that alpha/theta feedback can facilitate within-session operant control over the EEG signature targeted by the training protocol. However, it is neither known whether any between-session theta/alpha ratio changes do reliably occur, nor what kind of temporal dynamics between the alpha and theta band amplitudes characterise within-session and/or between-session theta/alpha ratio changes. Method. In order to address these issues, analyses of an extensive data set (n = 48) of alpha/theta training in healthy volunteers were carried out. Specifically, alpha, theta, and theta/alpha ratio EEG dynamics were contrasted between groups of subjects that engaged in 10 sessions of training at PZ (n = 28), five sessions of training at PZ (n = 10), and 10 sessions at FZ (n = 10). Results. For alpha/theta training at PZ, significant within-session increments in theta/alpha ratios were mediated by slightly less pronounced decrements in theta than in alpha activity during the sessions. The traditional alpha/theta protocol at PZ was nevertheless associated with significant theta activity increments across the training process. For training at FZ, no significant within- or between-session changes in theta, alpha, or theta/alpha ratio values were found, but a progressively higher rate of within-session theta/alpha ratio modulation was evident across sessions. Furthermore, in contrast to the PZ groups, any changes in theta/alpha ratio at FZ were mediated by increases in theta relative to alpha amplitudes. Conclusions. These data elucidate the dynamics underlying the within-session theta/alpha ratio increments associated with posterior alpha/theta training, and document an increase in theta activity across 10 sessions of training, offering further evidence for a neurophysiological impact of this training protocol. In addition, the contrasting EEG characteristics associated with frontal versus posterior alpha/theta training underline the heterogeneous nature of these frequency components across varying scalp sites.