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Operant conditioning of EEG rhythms and ritalin in the treatment of hyperkinesis

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Enhanced voluntary motor inhibition regularly accompanies conditioned increases in the sensorimotor rhythm (SMR), a 12–14-Hz Rolandic EEG rhythm in cats. A similar rhythm, presumably SMR, has also been identified in the human EEG. The clinical effectiveness of SMR operant conditioning has been claimed for epilepsy, insomnia, and hyperkinesis concurrent with seizure disorders. The present report attempts to follow up and replicate preliminary findings that suggested the technique's successful application to hyperkinesis uncomplicated by a history of epilepsy. SMR was defined as 12–14-Hz EEG activity in the absence of high-voltage slow-wave activity between 4 and 7 Hz. Anticipated treatment effects were indexed by systematic behavioral assessments of undirected motor activity and short attention span in the classroom. EEG and behavioral indices were monitored in four hyperkinetic children under the following six conditions: (1) No Drug, (2) Drug Only, (3) Drug and SMR Training I, (4) Drug and SMR Reversal Training, (5) Drug and SMR Training II, (6) No Drug and SMR Training. All hyperkinetic subjects were maintained on a constant drug regimen throughout the phases employing chemotherapy. Contingent increases and decreases in SMR occurred in three of four training subjects and were associated with similar changes in classroom assessments of motor inactivity. Combining medication and SMR training resulted in substantial improvements that exceeded the effects of drugs alone and were sustained with SMR training after medication was withdrawn. In contrast, these physiological and behavioral changes were absent in one highly distractible subject who failed to acquire the SMR task. Finally, pretraining levels of SMR accurately reflected both the severity of original motor deficits and the susceptibility of hyperkinetic subjects to both treatments. Although the procedure clearly reduced hyperkinetic behavior, a salient, specific therapeutic factor could not be identified due to the dual EEG contingency imposed combined with associated changes in EMG. Despite these and other qualifying factors, the findings suggested the prognostic and diagnostic value of the SMR in the disorder when overactivity rather than distractibility is the predominant behavioral deficit.

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Shouse, M.N., Lubar, J.F. Operant conditioning of EEG rhythms and ritalin in the treatment of hyperkinesis. Biofeedback and Self-Regulation 4, 299–312 (1979).

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