There are three cities around the world where, for $15,000, you can spend a week exercising your brain to allegedly…
1. Control your brain waves
2. Boost your IQ (on average 21.7 points according to the site)
The cerebral workout plan was created in the 1980s by Doctor James Hardt, a physicist and psychologist.
Dr. Hardt’s company, called the Biocybernaut Institute, is centered around neurofeedback, a form of therapy that uses information about the brain’s electrical patterns to teach people about how their minds work. The idea is that people can learn to control their brain activity in specific ways — from increasing focus or creativity to decreasing the symptoms of anxiety, depression, or even ADHD.
At its most basic, the treatment involves placing electrical sensors designed to monitor brain waves at various points on the scalp — kind of like you would if you were to get an EEG at the doctor. Those sensors are then connected to a source of feedback, like a video screen, with images that shift based on the type of brain waves a person is emitting.
Our electric brains
Theoretically, if you can control these brain waves, you can control your levels of alertness.
But to understand how that works, you have to know two important things: First, our brains are electric. Second, certain brain wave frequencies have actually been linked with various states of alertness.
The first person to measure the brain’s electricity was Austrian psychiatrist Hans Berger, who reported a technique for “recording the electrical activity of the human brain from the surface of the head” in 1924. It was the world’s first electroencephalogram, or EEG.
Today, we know that most of the electrical activity from the scalp falls in a range of roughly 1 to 20 Hertz (Hz). Neuroscientists typically divide this activity into 4 specific ranges, or bands. Each level corresponds to a specific type of alertness — at the lowest, called delta, you’re literally asleep; at the highest, called beta, you’re focused and attentive.
It breaks down like this:
- Delta: 1-4 Hz — activity your brain emits while you’re asleep
- Theta: 4-8 Hz — what your brain waves might look like when you’re “zoning off” or not really paying attention
- Alpha: 8-12 Hz — your relaxed but wakeful state
- Beta: 12-30 Hz — the brain waves your noggin tends to emit when you’re sharply focused
Neurofeedback operates on the principle that you can become aware of when your brain is in which state — or band of activity — and then consciously shift from one to another. If you can’t focus and your brain is showing lots of theta activity, the idea goes, you need to shift up into an alpha state. If you’re anxious and angry all the time and your brain is trapped in beta, you want to shift down into alpha.
Boosting your IQ and achieving ‘peak performance’
The Biocybernaut Institute claims that one week of its training does everything from boosting your IQ (the average increase is 21.7 points, according to their website) and creativity (50% on average, the site says) to reversing aging, improving relationships, and “dissolving fear.”
“After they do this training people just want more,” Miller said. “They start businesses, they get promotions, they change.”
Scientific research on neurofeedback doesn’t support the vast majority of these claims.
In a 2005 review on the use of neurofeedback in athletes, David Vernon, a professor of psychology at Canterbury Christ Church in the UK, concluded that “the plethora of claims regarding the use of neurofeedback training to enhance performance is matched only by the paucity of research showing a clear effect.” In another review that Vernon and his team published 4 years later, they looked at the studies of neurofeedback’s mood-enhancing capabilities. They concluded that “the notion that alpha neurofeedback can enhance the mood of healthy individuals has yet to be firmly established.”