Current progress in real-time functional magnetic resonance-based neurofeedback: Methodological challenges and achievements

Neuroimage. 2019 Nov 15:202:116107. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116107. Epub 2019 Aug 19.


Neurofeedback (NF) is a research and clinical technique, characterized by live demonstration of brain activation to the subject. The technique has become increasingly popular as a tool for the training of brain self-regulation, fueled by the superiority in spatial resolution and fidelity brought along with real-time analysis of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) data, compared to the more traditional EEG (electroencephalography) approach. NF learning is a complex phenomenon and a controversial discussion on its feasibility and mechanisms has arisen in the literature. Critical aspects of the design of fMRI-NF studies include the localization of neural targets, cognitive and operant aspects of the training procedure, personalization of training, and the definition of training success, both through neural effects and (for studies with therapeutic aims) through clinical effects. In this paper, we argue that a developmental perspective should inform neural target selection particularly for pediatric populations, and different success metrics may allow in-depth analysis of NF learning. The relevance of the functional neuroanatomy of NF learning for brain target selection is discussed. Furthermore, we address controversial topics such as the role of strategy instructions, sometimes given to subjects in order to facilitate learning, and the timing of feedback. Discussion of these topics opens sight on problems that require further conceptual and empirical work, in order to improve the impact that fMRI-NF could have on basic and applied research in future.

Keywords: BCI; Developmental cognitive neuroscience; Multivariate pattern analysis; Neurofeedback; Real-time fMRI; Review; Translational research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Neurofeedback / methods*
  • Neurofeedback / physiology