Real-Time Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Neurofeedback for the Relief of Distressing Auditory-Verbal Hallucinations: Methodological and Empirical Advances

Schizophr Bull. 2020 Dec 1;46(6):1409-1417. doi: 10.1093/schbul/sbaa103.


Auditory-verbal hallucinations (AVH) are often associated with high levels of distress and disability in individuals with schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. In around 30% of individuals with distressing AVH and diagnosed with schizophrenia, traditional antipsychotic drugs have little or no effect. Thus, it is important to develop mechanistic models of AVH to inform new treatments. Recently a small number of studies have begun to explore the use of real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging neurofeedback (rtfMRI-NF) for the treatment of AVH in individuals with schizophrenia. rtfMRI-NF protocols have been developed to provide feedback about brain activation in real time to enable participants to progressively achieve voluntary control over their brain activity. We offer a conceptual review of the background and general features of neurofeedback procedures before summarizing and evaluating existing mechanistic models of AVH to identify feasible neural targets for the application of rtfMRI-NF as a potential treatment. We consider methodological issues, including the choice of localizers and practicalities in logistics when setting up neurofeedback procedures in a clinical setting. We discuss clinical considerations relating to the use of rtfMRI-NF for AVH in individuals distressed by their experiences and put forward a number of questions and recommendations about best practice. Lastly, we conclude by offering suggestions for new avenues for neurofeedback methodology and mechanistic targets in relation to the research and treatment of AVH.

Keywords: hallucinations; neurofeedback; neuroimaging; psychotic experiences; schizophrenia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Functional Neuroimaging* / methods
  • Hallucinations / etiology
  • Hallucinations / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Neurofeedback* / methods
  • Schizophrenia / complications
  • Schizophrenia / rehabilitation*