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A theory of alpha/theta neurofeedback, creative performance enhancement, long distance functional connectivity and psychological integration


Professionally significant enhancement of music and dance performance and mood has followed training with an EEG-neurofeedback protocol which increases the ratio of theta to alpha waves using auditory feedback with eyes closed. While originally the protocol was designed to induce hypnogogia, a state historically associated with creativity, the outcome was psychological integration, while subsequent applications focusing on raising the theta–alpha ratio, reduced depression and anxiety in alcoholism and resolved post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). In optimal performance studies we confirmed associations with creativity in musical performance, but effects also included technique and communication. We extended efficacy to dance and social anxiety. Diversity of outcome has a counterpart in wide ranging associations between theta oscillations and behaviour in cognitive and affective neuroscience: in animals with sensory-motor activity in exploration, effort, working memory, learning, retention and REM sleep; in man with meditative concentration, reduced anxiety and sympathetic autonomic activation, as well as task demands in virtual spatial navigation, focussed and sustained attention, working and recognition memory, and having implications for synaptic plasticity and long term potentiation. Neuroanatomical circuitry involves the ascending mescencephalic-cortical arousal system, and limbic circuits subserving cognitive as well as affective/motivational functions. Working memory and meditative bliss, representing cognitive and affective domains, respectively, involve coupling between frontal and posterior cortices, exemplify a role for theta and alpha waves in mediating the interaction between distal and widely distributed connections. It is posited that this mediation in part underpins the integrational attributes of alpha–theta training in optimal performance and psychotherapy, creative associations in hypnogogia, and enhancement of technical, communication and artistic domains of performance in the arts.

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Grants were from the National Endowment of Science, Technology & Arts, and the European PRESENCCIA project (IST-027731). All experiments by the author included in the review have been undertaken with approval of University Ethics Committees.

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Correspondence to John Gruzelier.

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Gruzelier, J. A theory of alpha/theta neurofeedback, creative performance enhancement, long distance functional connectivity and psychological integration. Cogn Process 10, 101–109 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10339-008-0248-5

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  • Theta waves
  • Neurofeedback
  • Performance enhancement
  • Cognition
  • Mood
  • Connectivity