As a coach and executive health advisor, I always test tools I would like to suggest to my clients, at first on my own.
Having started my career as a psychologist about 30 years ago in psychophysiology, I have always kept an interest in how the field has dynamically evolved over time. I know the labs from the past and can testify that their clumsy equipment was not very inviting for any kind of peak experience. While I have followed the recent rise in consumer-grade neurofeedback devices with some enthusiasm, I frequently have noticed that high hopes were not met with an equally enlightening daily practice. This was often related to poor EEG signal quality, which in turn led to experiences significantly below expectations.
I was an early backer of Sens.ai’s headset on Indiegogo but kept a healthy dose of skepticism, especially as the campaign had some bumpy moments and experienced significant delays. Eventually, I got my hands on the headset by the beginning of August, and it seems fit to share some initial observations!
Some basics: What is gamma neurofeedback?
Gamma neurofeedback, also known as gamma brainwave training, is a technique that aims to increase the activity of gamma brainwaves in the brain. Gamma waves are the fastest brainwaves, and they are associated with various cognitive functions and mental states. Increased gamma brainwave activity has been shown to improve cognitive function and problem-solving skills and it is said to improve memory and information processing as well as to increase focus and attention span.
Additionally, gamma waves are associated with higher states of awareness and increased brain function during meditation, and the entrainment of gamma waves may have a positive effect on overall brain function.
It is still important to note that while gamma waves have potential benefits, more research is needed to fully understand their effects and how to manipulate them effectively. While gamma neurofeedback is considered safe, however, some people may experience mild side effects during or after neurofeedback sessions, such as temporary fatigue or headache. Of course, everybody with pre-existing neurological conditions should consider medical advice before engaging in neurofeedback sessions.
What does the Sens.ai headset offer?
The headset comes with a travel case and an innovative solution for making the EEG electrodes signal-conducive without electrode paste. It is a 5-in-1 device that combines neurofeedback, photobiomodulation, heart coherence, binaural beats, and guided meditation to help users improve their mental and emotional well-being.
As we have already covered neurofeedback, we can skip this part for photobiomodulation: A technique that uses near-infrared light to stimulate the mitochondria in the brain cells, which can boost energy, mood, and cognition. Heart coherence is a technique that synchronizes the heart rate variability with the breathing pattern, which can reduce stress. Binaural beats are sounds that create a frequency difference between the left and right ear, which can induce different states of consciousness, such as relaxation, focus, or sleep.
The distinct functions of the headset come together on a mobile app that links them via an overarching narrative and storyline. The headset also comes with what they call the “Genius Pulse” controller, a device that measures selected indicators of your speed of thinking.
Using the device requires a subscription, which is covered for one year for each Indiegogo backer.
What’s in it for me?
I liked the ease of use and the well-designed app. Their client support team deserves an extra shout-out for reachability and responsiveness. I really was sold by the consistently high signal quality. I can mark all the boxes for the basics and more. This is important as not all devices out there master these initial steps in a comparably flawless way.
I am aware of research that indicates that a certain percentage of individuals trying to learn gamma feedback might not be able to. So, the important message is that it works for me and does so remarkably well!
Impact of one of the neurofeedback options and chess performance
I have added a screenshot taken from the app which indicates that the calm-related training has shown considerable progress over the last weeks. Even better, the graph is equally matched by my experience.
Furthermore, as you can see on the right, I tracked my results with the online chess app “Lichess” during August. While my mastery of chess remains in question, I appreciate how gaming in August worked out for me.
While I tend to be cautious about claiming causality too quickly, I keep curious about how using the sens.ai headset will unfold in the future. Right now, I am more than happy.
Is there a verdict?
Of course not, there is never a verdict, just your ongoing learning history.
So far, Sens.ai has topped my expectations and I will add the headset to the tools of the trade I am going to discuss with my executive coaching clients.
Disclaimer: This piece contains no medical advice. I have no share or other material interest in Sens.ai, the manufacturer of the headset described.
Braboszcz C, Cahn BR, Levy J, Fernandez M, Delorme A (2017) Increased gamma brainwave amplitude compared to control in three different meditation traditions. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0170647. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0170647
Khodakarami Z., & Firoozabadi M. (2020). Psychological, neurophysiological, and mental factors associated with gamma-enhancing neurofeedback success. Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, 11(5), 701-714. http://dx.doi.org/10.32598/bcn.11.5.1878.1