Impact of Consumer-grade fNIRS Neurofeedback: Coaching perspectives

Updated: Jul 14

Recently, we demonstrated a positive impact of neurofeedback on health and performance. Neuro interventions provide new coaching opportunities.


With the rising availability of consumer-grade devices for neurofeedback or neuro intervention (e.g., Muse, Neorythm, Hapbee), new use-cases or at least new perspectives on existing challenges can be tried and tested.

One such area of interest is the interface between neurosciences, mind research, and individual (peak) performance.

We selected functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS, see Rahman, Siddik, Ghosh et al. 2020) based neurofeedback. It provides comparably low measurement error biosignals for a consumer application in the field (see Högman & Dravniknes 2020).


In an N= 1 design for 31 days during May 2021, we tested how performance development of heart rate variability (HRV) was related to different fNIRS data sampled by Mendi innovations AB’s neurofeedback headband. The rationale for using Mendi assumes that entraining the blood flow to the brain’s prefrontal cortex will strengthen executive functions and thus might mediate health indicators.

The measurements from an Apple Watch 6 for daily mean HRV were utilized as an additional biosignal. Heart Rate Variability is a measure of the variation in the time interval between heartbeats. Apple Watch calculates HRV by using the standard deviation of beat-to-beat measurements captured by the heart rate sensor. Typically, 3-5 measurements are taken automatically per day.


The fNIRS-biofeedback procedure demonstrated a significant increase in mean HRV. When comparing mean HRV-readings between the three-thirds of the month, HRV has been significantly higher by the end of the period, indicating a positive impact of the neurofeedback-training (F(2,28)= 12.32, p<0.00). Furthermore, HRV data were correlated in a meaningful way with the outputs of the fNIRS neurofeedback procedure.


The positive impact of neurofeedback training is demonstrated by the rise of daily mean HRV-scores over time. Williams et al. (2019) have proposed that HRV-readings indicate PFC activation. Consistently lower PFC activity over time might result in adverse health and performance effects: “Reduced HRV is related to hypoactivity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which negatively affects executive functioning” (Hovland et al., 2012: abstract).

To reduce misinterpretation, we sampled the individual’s daily steps to test if physical activity could explain the observed HRV-rise. The correlation between these two data streams was irrelevant and non-significant (r= 0.114, p<0.54).


We strongly propose introducing Mendi and related neuro intervention tools to coaching practice to offer alternative pathways to success in performance and executive coaching!


Device: fNIRS-Headband by Mendi innovations AB, Stockholm (2020).


References

Högman, L. & Dravniknes, H. (2020). Validation of a consumer-grade functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Device for Measurement of frontal pole Brain Oxygenation – an Interim Report. Stockholm: Department of Psychology, Stockholm University. Paper retrieved from Mendi innovation AB’s website [02.05.2021].


Hovland A., Pallesen S., Hammar A., Hansen A.L., Thayer J.F., Tarvainen M.P. & Nordhus I.H.(2012). The Relationships among Heart Rate Variability, executive functions, and clinical variables in patients with Panic Disorder. International Journal of Psychophysiology 86 (3): 269-275.


Williams, P.G., Cribbet, M.R., Tinajero, R., Rau, H.K., Thayer, J.F. & Suchy, Y. (2019). The Association between individual differences in executive functioning and resting high-frequency Heart Rate Variability. Biological Psychology 148.



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