Jeff La Marca, Ph.D., assistant professor of special education, has completed a study funded through a Seton Hall University Research Council Grant titled "Evaluation of Artifact-Controlled Electroencephalographic (EEG) Training: A Pilot Study." The study provided further research into the use of EEG training, otherwise known as Neurofeedback, as a potentially useful non-medicinal method to improve focus and concentration for individuals diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Specifically, Neurofeedback is used to train individuals to control their own brainwaves. In this study, La Marca evaluated how movements of the eyes and facial muscles (termed artifacts) affected the ability to accurately read brainwaves. Through potential future grant-funded research, La Marca aims to examine if Neurofeedback is a viable non-medicinal option to improve academic performance in students with attention deficits.
Neurofeedback is a form of biofeedback, based on the principles of operant conditioning using EEG data, which trains individuals to control their own brainwaves. Although used to treat ADD since 1976, it has never been regulated to act in place of medications such as Ritalin. As such, its effectiveness has not been sufficiently confirmed. La Marca views his research of Neurofeedback as a potentially significant break-through in the safe treatment of ADD/ADHD, which may be used in schools.
Essentially, individuals with ADD/ADHD experience an overabundance of theta brainwaves during many daily activities.. Theta is a frequency (4 to 8 Hz or cycles per second) that the brain usually produces when entering a light state of sleep. The ability to pay attention is optimum when a faster brainwave frequency, low beta brainwaves (15 to 18 Hz) are present. Neurofeedback has the ability to train the brain to reduce theta brainwaves and increase low beta when practiced during an extended period. This may help students with attention deficits to do better in school.
La Marca began his research in California, evaluating a group of fourth grade students during 40 half-hour sessions in which they played brainwave-activated video games while being monitored with electrode receivers. A car racing game was one of many different options where the students' opportunity to win was based on their ability to decrease their theta and increase their low beta brainwaves in order to compete against the computer and move the game forward. La Marca's findings found that Neurofeedback improved the group's reading comprehension, fluency, and speed at the conclusion of the training.
The next phase of La Marca's research sought to explore how the removal of artifacts, such as muscle and eye movements, would serve to improve the accuracy of the results. Fourteen New Jersey college students were selected for participation based on previous diagnoses of ADHD or for meeting inclusionary criteria suggesting an attention deficit. Those meeting inclusionary criteria were randomly assigned to either an artifact-corrected group or non-artifact corrected group. Participants and Seton Hall graduate research assistants were blinded to the purpose of the study and were told that the research was designed to measure changes in attention. Only La Marca knew which participants were assigned to each group. As anticipated, students who were trained with extraneous signaling due to muscle and eye movements were more successful in controlling their brainwaves and showed significant improvements in attention as measured by computer assessments.
La Marca has collaborated with colleagues in the fields of psychology to produce his research, yet is unique among them as an educator with a focus on neurological conditioning. He is now in the process of disseminating the findings of his research via journal publications and conference presentations and is pursuing grant funding that would allow him to replicate it on a larger scale. His future work could have implications for academic achievement, assessment, and intervention in schools. He states, "We would have the potential to go into schools and help children to learn better without the use of medication."
La Marca, J. P. (2018). Historical overview of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and neurofeedback: Implications for academic achievement, assessment, and intervention in schools. Contemporary School Psychology, 22(1), 1-17. doi:10.1007/s40688-017-0155-9
La Marca, J. P., & O'Connor, R. E. (2016). Neurofeedback as an intervention to improve reading achievement in students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, inattentive subtype. NeuroRegulation, 3(2), 55-77. doi:10.15540/nr.3.2.55
La Marca, J. P., Cruz, D., Cacciaguerra, F., Guerra, A. T., Fandino, J., & Fresco, J. J. (2017, September). Artifact-controlled neurofeedback: A pilot study. Poster presented at the 2017 Conference of the International Society for Neurofeedback & Research. Mashantucket, Connecticut.
La Marca, J. P. (2018, April). Neurofeedback in schools: An examination of the role of automatic artifact removal during training. Paper to be presented at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, New York.
La Marca, J. P. (2018, February-a). Neurofeedback as a strategy to improve academic achievement with ADHD students. Paper presented at the 2018 Annual Convention of the National Association of School Psychologists, Chicago, Illinois.
La Marca, J. P., Cruz, D., Cacciaguerra, F., Guerra, A. T., Fandino, J., & Fresco, J. J. (2018, February). Neurofeedback and automatic artifact removal: Considerations for effective training procedures. Poster presented at the 2018 Annual Convention of the National Association of School Psychologists. Chicago, Illinois.
La Marca, J. P. (2018, February-b). Neurofeedback as an intervention for ADHD in public schools. Paper presented at the 55th Annual (2018) International Conference of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, Atlanta, Georgia.