Alpha Suppression and Symmetry Training for Generalized Anxiety Symptoms

Cynthia Kerson, Richard A. Sherman, Gerald P. Kozlowski


Introduction. Twenty-eight anxious adults were assessed for frontal lobe alpha asymmetry, a brain state associated with depression and anxiety. Fifteen of the 28 exhibited significant asymmetry and 12 agreed to participate in a biofeedback program addressed at reducing frontal alpha asymmetry. Method. The program consisted of earlobe temperature biofeedback (ETB) and two forms of neurofeedback, alpha suppression and alpha symmetry training. Individuals were instructed to warm their right earlobe for six sessions, and half succeeded, though success was not required to advance to the next stage of training. For subsequent EEG training, two anterior sites were selected on the basis of poor alpha coherence. Individuals were trained to reduce alpha magnitude at these sites by 10% for 30 min or more, which took from 6 to 16 sessions to achieve. Once successful with alpha suppression, individuals were trained to improve alpha symmetry between the sites by 15% for 30 min or more. Results. This feat took 8 to 32 sessions to achieve, and eventually all eight individuals were able to reduce alpha asymmetry. The State–Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) was used to measured anxiety levels after each training type and both state and trait scores significantly improved by a 6-month follow-up. Conclusion. Participants also completed a daily shortened version of the STAI, which indicated that anxiety improved after neurofeedback but not after ETB.

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