A randomized-controlled neurofeedback trial in adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

Sci Rep. 2021 Aug 19;11(1):16873. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-95928-1.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a childhood onset disorder persisting into adulthood for a large proportion of cases. Neurofeedback (NF) has shown promising results in children with ADHD, but randomized controlled trials in adults with ADHD are scarce. We aimed to compare slow cortical potential (SCP)- and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) NF to a semi-active electromyography biofeedback (EMG-BF) control condition regarding changes in symptoms and the impact of learning success, as well as changes in neurophysiological parameters in an adult ADHD population. Patients were randomly assigned to SCP-NF (n = 26), fNIRS-NF (n = 21) or EMG-BF (n = 20). Outcome parameters were assessed over 30 training sessions (pre, intermediate, post) and at 6-months follow-up (FU) including 3 booster sessions. EEG was recorded during two auditory Go/NoGo paradigms assessing the P300 and contingent negative variation (CNV). fNIRS measurements were conducted during an n-back- as well as a Go/NoGo task. All three groups showed equally significant symptom improvements suggesting placebo- or non-specific effects on the primary outcome measure. Only when differentiating between learners and non-learners, fNIRS learners displayed stronger reduction of ADHD global scores compared to SCP non-learners at FU, and fNIRS learners showed specifically low impulsivity ratings. 30.8% in the SCP-NF and 61.9% of participants in the fNIRS-NF learned to regulate the respective NF target parameter. We conclude that some adults with ADHD learn to regulate SCP amplitudes and especially prefrontal hemodynamic activity during NF. We did not find any significant differences in outcome between groups when looking at the whole sample. When evaluating learners only, they demonstrate superior effects as compared to non-learners, which suggests specific effects in addition to non-specific effects of NF when learning occurs.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / physiopathology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurofeedback*
  • Oxyhemoglobins / metabolism
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared
  • Young Adult


  • Oxyhemoglobins