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Tuesday, 30 December 2008 10:32

Alice in Neuroland - Page 8

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So, late last winter, I began driving 75 miles from my home to the toy-filled offices of Mark Steinberg, an educational psychologist in San Jose, California, and coauthor of ADD: The 20-Hour Solution . After running me through a battery of neuropsychological tests measuring concentration and attentiveness (I scored execrably on both dimensions), Steinberg devised a neurofeedback protocol for me, my own custom recipe. He'd give 9 minutes of alertness brain training by putting an electrode on the left side of my head--the seat of engagement with the external world--encouraging my brain waves to fire there at 15 to 18 times per second. Then he'd switch the electrode to the more nonverbal, mood-regulating right side of my head for 21 minutes of calmness training, encouraging slightly slower, SMR brain waves.

The left-brain training would rev up the more cognitive side of my brain and help my inattentiveness--a symptom of neurophysiological underarousal, as is mild depression. The right-brain training would mellow out the hemisphere specializing in mood regulation and tone down my impulsivity (a sign of overarousal). So, with an electrode pasted to my left scalp, I sat back in a leather recliner. A technician hit some keys, and I looked at a video screen showing the white wake of a boat stretching toward a brown volcano on the horizon.

When I was in the right zone, the computer beeped, I got a point, a star appeared in the video sky, and a wide strip of white spread toward the horizon. Sometimes the screen fell silent; at other times, I produced a river of continuous beeps. Whenever I earned 500 points, the volcano released a pretty cascade of colored balls.

On the first day, I hunched forward in the recliner, determined to succeed. I stared at the computer screen with narrowed eyes, afraid I'd miss something. The beeps hiccupped on and off like a car starting up on an icy morning. Then I consciously soft-focused my eyes and relaxed my clenched hands, and the beeps picked up.

In the next couple of sessions, I noticed that when the beeps stopped, I was usually monitoring and grading my performance. In time, I somehow monitored myself less, and got more beeps. After sessions four and five, I left the office feeling calm and buoyant. The long drive home was a breeze, even though I missed one exit and had to loop back. As I passed by San Francisco Bay, its gun-metal waters looked extraordinarily vivid.
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