Neurofeedback for Performing Arts – Research

Accelerating Musical Mastery and Creativity

Professor John Gruzelier head of the Cognitive Neuroscience and Behaviour Laboratory at Imperial Collage London and president of the Society for Applied Neuroscience, conducted research with high achieving students at the prestigious Royal College of Music London in 2002.

He compared alpha theta neuro-feedback for the performing arts to Alexander technique (postural and body awareness training used extensively in the performing arts) and cognitive skills training (positive thinking similar to NLP).

The three groups of musicians had performances videoed and rated by a panel of independent expert judges who didn’t know what group they belonged to.

All those in the neurofeedback group improved, some by 50 percent, in stylistic accuracy and interpretative imagination (creativity). The number of incidental errors also fell significantly.

Average improvements were equivalent to two academic grades within the conservatory assessment system. There was no improvement in the other two groups.

Some important points to consider re the above research:

The research was done with high achieving students, clearly demonstrating the peak performance benefits to high achievers, in other words, this is not training for people who are having problems, however it can be used for that too.

This type of applied research is about 20 years behind trainers experience in the field.

The improvements of stylistic accuracy, interpretive imagination and reduced incidental errors held up 2 years from the actual training, which is consistent with trainers experience in the field.

A research setting is very restrictive and doesn’t allow for tailored training for individuals, which improves results significantly, also the amount of training was far less than you would do in a real life training program, again improving outcomes.

Another important outcome of Neurofeedback training is arousal control, especially related to emotional states eg anxiety and depression. In the field it is used extensively to remediate depression and anxiety problems also for emotional control for athletes to improve the consistency of their performance.


Creativity Enhancement

Dr Colin Martindale PhD, in several research projects, found that professionals who were creative problems solvers increased their alpha (8-12hz) brainwaves when given a difficult problem to solve.

In contrast Martindale found that similar professionals who didn’t describe themselves as creative problem solvers didn’t increase their alpha when given a difficult problem to solve.

He went onto to do other research with Neurofeedback and demonstrated that training to increase alpha in none problem solvers increased their ability to solve problems.

Martindale stated: “When creative people go to work on an imaginative task, their alpha jumps …” and “Creativity is a matter of having the right brain waves.”

Therefore it is natural to assume that if you need to increase your or your teams creativity, problem solving or innovative thinking then Neurofeedback training is a powerful way to actually physically train the brain’s ability to be creative.

This has been clearly seen in Hardts research with scientists and Gruzeliers research with musicians.


Creativity, Stress and Anxiety Reduction

Alpha Neurofeedback training has been demonstrated to increase creativity in top scientists having insight breakthroughs on long term projects and reduce performance anxiety and competitive anxiety.

This capacity to increase creativity and decrease performance anxiety is very useful for professional performing artists, as they are under enormous pressure when performing and creative people have a tendency towards high anxiety levels, which can lead to break downs and substance abuse.

Dr James Hardt PhD, formally of the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute of the University of California Medical Centre and now director of the Biocybernaut Institute, conducted a small trial with seven volunteers, who were scientists at the Stanford Research Institute and a control group of age matched executives from Silicon Valley.

Both groups were given pre training stress tests, physiological stress response, measuring galvanic skin response, muscle tension [EMG], skin temperature, heart rate and respiration rate and subjective stress questionnaire the Signals of Stress Inventory [SOSI]) and a creativity inventory Ideation Fluency.

The two groups were well matched on all three groups of tests.

The alpha group did alpha EEG biofeedback training once per day and the control group went about their normal routine. At the end of five days the tests were repeated for both groups and Hardt found that the physiological stress (emotional stress and auditory startle stress) in the alpha group was significantly reduced but the control group had risen slightly.

The subjective measure of stress (SOSI) showed an average of 56% decrease for the alpha group and the control group had a 5% increase. The alpha group had a 50% increase in their Ideation Fluency scores, which Hardt described as ‘highly’ significant. He concluded that alpha training holds the promise of reducing anxiety and increasing creativity in a ‘wide’ range of people.



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