Neurofeedback and the Neural Representation of Self: Lessons From Awake State and Sleep

Front Hum Neurosci. 2018 Apr 13;12:142. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00142. eCollection 2018.


Neurofeedback has been around for half a century, but despite some promising results it is not yet widely appreciated. Recently, some of the concerns about neurofeedback have been addressed with functional magnetic resonance imaging and magnetoencephalography adding their contributions to the long history of neurofeedback with electroencephalography. Attempts to address other concerns related to methodological issues with new experiments and meta-analysis of earlier studies, have opened up new questions about its efficacy. A key concern about neurofeedback is the missing framework to explain how improvements in very different and apparently unrelated conditions are achieved. Recent advances in neuroscience begin to address this concern. A particularly promising approach is the analysis of resting state of fMRI data, which has revealed robust covariations in brain networks that maintain their integrity in sleep and even anesthesia. Aberrant activity in three brain wide networks (i.e., the default mode, central executive and salience networks) has been associated with a number of psychiatric disorders. Recent publications have also suggested that neurofeedback guides the restoration of "normal" activity in these three networks. Using very recent results from our analysis of whole night MEG sleep data together with key concepts from developmental psychology, cloaked in modern neuroscience terms, a theoretical framework is proposed for a neural representation of the self, located at the core of a double onion-like structure of the default mode network. This framework fits a number of old and recent neuroscientific findings, and unites the way attention and memory operate in awake state and during sleep. In the process, safeguards are uncovered, put in place by evolution, before any interference with the core representation of self can proceed. Within this framework, neurofeedback is seen as set of methods for restoration of aberrant activity in large scale networks. The framework also admits quantitative measures of improvements to be made by personalized neurofeedback protocols. Finally, viewed through the framework developed, neurofeedback's safe nature is revealed while raising some concerns for interventions that attempt to alter the neural self-representation bypassing the safeguards evolution has put in place.

Keywords: default mode network; electroencephalography (EEG); magnetoencephalography (MEG); mothering effect; nature of dreams; neural representation of self; resting state networks (RSN); zone of proximal development (ZPD).