Pioneers of Neurofeedback, Sterman and Lubar

Barry Sterman, PhD. was a sleep researcher who stumbled upon the miracle of neurofeedback during one of his experiments involving cats back in 1965.  His work eventually led to the discovery of a neurofeedback protocol that is still used today to treat grand mal seizures in epileptics.  Joel Lubar, PhD. built on Sterman’s work to develop the protocol for ADHD that is still used today.

A New Brain Wave

Sterman was trying to reproduce some of Pavlov’s experiments using cats.  However, unlike Pavlov, the cat’s brains were connected to an Electroencephalogram (EEG) to read the cat’s brain waves during the experiment.  He began the experiment by placing 30 cats in cages and deprived them of food.  A cat was taken out of the experimental cage and placed in an experimental chamber.  Inside the chamber there was a lever and an empty bowl.  Every time the cat would press the lever the bowl would get filled with milk and chicken broth.  Very quickly, each of the cats became conditioned to press the lever whenever they wanted food.  Next, a new element was introduced to the experiment: a tone.  If the cat pressed the lever while the tone was on, the dose of chicken broth and milk would not be delivered.  The cat had to wait for the tone to stop before it could press the lever and get the reward.  Sterman observed that while the cat was waiting for the tone to stop, it entered a unique state of consciousness.  It remained absolutely still, though extremely alert.  It’s the same state a lion experiences as it waits for the precise moment to pounce on its prey.  Accompanying this motor stillness was an EEG reading unlike anyone had seen before.  It was a specific rhythmic frequency of 12Hz to 15Hz over a specific part of the brain which he called the sensorimotor frequency or SMR.  Sterman carried the experiment one step further.  He wanted to see if he could teach the cat how to produce that specific frequency at will.  The cat sat in the chamber attached to the EEG, but this time no lever was used.  Instead, if the cat produced a half second of the SMR frequency, they were given a shot of the broth and milk.  Over time the cats learned how to produce the frequency at will.  These incredible results were published in the prestigious medical journal Brain Research in 1967.

Application to the Real World

While Sterman’s research results were fascinating, he had no idea if the SMR work had any application in the real world.  Shortly after the SMR experiment, Sterman was asked by NASA to conduct some experiments on a rocket fuel called monomethylhydrazine (MMH).   NASA found that when workers and astronauts came in contact with the substance it caused hallucinations, nausea, severe epileptic seizures, and eventually death.  These new experiments were completely unrelated to the previous SMR experiments.

Sterman brought in 50 cats for the new study.  Each animal was injected with 10mg of the rocket fuel and their brains were wired to an EEG to measure their reaction.  A few minutes after the injection all of the cats vomited, made noises, salivated and panted.  After one hour all but 10 of the cats went into grand mal epileptic seizures.  For some reason 10 of the cats were resistant to the seizures – but why?  Through the course of science a number of key discoveries have been made by coincidence; this was one of them.  As it turned out, the seizure resistant cats were left over from the previous SMR experiment.  Sterman came to realize that by teaching the cats to produce SMR in the previous experiment, he strengthened their brain function.  The cat’s seizure threshold had been increased; the brains were now functionally altered so as to prevent the seizures.  These studies clearly demonstrated that the effects of SMR neurofeedback were clearly physiological and not placebo.

Epilepsy and Neurofeedback

The last step was to test his theory on humans.  Could SMR neurofeedback prevent or reduce the number of seizures in epileptics?  In 1971 Sterman wired up his first human subject to a neurofeedback instrument.  When the patient produced SMR a green light came on.  When she was not producing SMR a red light came on.  Her task was to keep the green light on and the red light off.  The results were incredible – A 65% reduction in grand mal seizures!  The results were replicated in several other laboratories throughout the world and published in the medical journal Epilepsia in1978.  Sterman’s work paved the way for the clinical applications of neurofeedback, and today neurofeedback is used throughout the world to help patients with all types of neurological conditions.

Dr. Joel Lubar and Natural ADHD Relief

In 1972, Dr. Joel Lubar had already been studying ADD/ADHD for several years when he came across the published works of Dr. Barry Sterman.  As we have already discussed, Sterman had been working with epileptics, training them with neurofeedback to help reduce the frequency of gran mal seizures. As soon as Lubar read about the work that Sterman was doing he realized that there was an application to his work with ADD/ADHD patients.  Lubar states:

“Sterman’s paper said there is a brain wave frequency known as SMR that may be dysfunctional in epileptics, and when that rhythm is partially restored, a resistance to seizures occurs.  As soon as I read that, I said, ‘My God, I think this will work for controlling hyperactivity in children because the circuitry is very similar.’ If you could quiet the motor responses for epileptics, then quieting the motor responses in hyperactive children should be a piece of cake.”

Lubar accepted a position to work directly under Sterman for an entire year.  One of the most powerful studies that he performed involved four children diagnosed with ADHD.  The children were trained using neurofeedback until their symptoms disappeared and then trained them the opposite way until the tests showed it was back.  It worked beautifully.  Lubar went on to publish hundreds of studies regarding the treatment of ADD/ADHD using neurofeedback and eventually developed the Lubar Protocol for ADD/ADHD which is still regarded today as the most effective neurofeedback protocol for children and adults with ADD/ADHD.

Neurofeedback for the Natural Treatment of ADHD

We utilize the exact same protocols developed by Dr. Lubar for ADD/ADHD.  Efficacy is based on more than 40 years of proven research published in medical journals throughout the world.