Biofeedback and the Regulation of Complex Psychological Processes

  • David Shapiro
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 2)


With the growth and diversity of research on the regulation of physiological responses by means of biofeedback and instrumental learning, investigators have become more and more attracted by the possibilities that these methods may provide for the analysis and modification of complex psychological processes. From early on in the development of the field, writers have speculated about the implications of biofeedback and other methods of self regulation and voluntary control, and a variety of reports have described case studies exemplifying these potentials. Examples of complex processes that have been discussed in this context are: states of consciousness, creativity and imagination, learning potential, attention and vigilance, problem solving capabilities, relaxation, coping with stress, and various perceptual and subjective reactions in pain, anxiety, fear, and other emotional states. Aside from the possible influence or control over such psychological processes, a biofeedback strategy of research may help elucidate and objectify so-called private events which have required sole dependence on introspective and verbal reports for their specification.


Heart Rate Cold Pressor Voluntary Control Electrodermal Response Cold Pressor Test 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Beatty, J. Similar effects of feedback signals and instructional information on EEG activity. Physiology and Behavior, 1972, 9, 151–154.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beatty, J., Greenberg, A., Deibler, W. P., & O’Hanlon, J. F. Operant control of occipital theta rhythm affects performance in a radar monitoring task. Science, 1974, 183, 871–873.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beatty, J., & Kornfeld, C. Relative independence of conditioned EEG changes from cardiac and respiratory activity. Physiology and Behavior, 1972, 9, 733–736.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown, B. Recognition of aspects of consciousness through association with EEG alpha activity represented by a light signal. Psychophysiology, 1970, 6, 442–452.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, B. Awareness of EEG-subjective activity relationships detected within a closed feedback system. Psychophysiology, 1971, 7, 451–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. DiCara, L. V., & Weiss, J. M. Effect of heart-rate learning under curare on subsequent noncurarized avoidance learning. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 1969, 69, 368–374.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gatchel, R. J., & Proctor, J. D. Effectiveness of voluntary heart rate control in reducing speech anxiety. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1976, 44, 381–389.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hardt, J. V., & Kamiya, J. Some comments on Plotkin’s self-regulation of electroencephalographic alpha. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 1976, 105, 100–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. James, W. The principles of psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1890.Google Scholar
  10. Kimmel, I D., Pendergrass, V. E., & Kimmel, E. B. Modifying children’s orienting reactions instrumentally. Conditional Reflex, 1967, 2, 227–235.Google Scholar
  11. Lacey, J. K., & Lacey, B. C. Some autonomic-central nervous system interrelationships. In P. Black (Ed.), Physiological correlates of emotion. New York: Academic Press, 1970.Google Scholar
  12. Lang, P. J. The mechanics of desensitization and the laboratory study of human fear. In C. M. Franks (Ed.), Behavior therapy: Appraisal and status. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1969.Google Scholar
  13. Lang, P. J., Rice, D. C., & Sternbach, R. A. Psychophysiology of emotion. In N. Greenfield & R. Sternbach (Eds.), Handbook of psychophysiology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1972.Google Scholar
  14. Lovallo, W. The cold pressor test and autonomic function: A review and integration. Psychophysiology, 1975, 12, 268–282.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mathews, A. M. Psychophysiological approaches to the investigation of desensitization and related procedures. Psychological Bulletin, 1971, 76, 73–91.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Morganstern, K. Heart rate deceleration through the use of a reaction time task as a treatment for the reduction of analogue fear: Cardiac inhibition therapy. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University, 1974.Google Scholar
  17. Nowlis, D. P., & Kamiya, J. The control of electroencephalographic alpha rhythms through auditory feedback and the associated mental activity. Psychophysiology, 1970, 6, 476–484.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Obrist, P. A., Webb, R., Sutterer, J., & Howard, J. The cardiac-somatic relationship: Some reformulations. Psychophysiology, 1970, 6, 569–587.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Paskewitz, D. A., Lynch, J. J., Orne, M. T., & Costello, J. The feedback control of alpha activity: Conditioning or disinhibition. Psychophysiology, 1970, 6, 637–638.Google Scholar
  20. Plotkin, W. B. On the self-regulation of the occipital alpha rhythm: Control strategies, states of consciousness, and the role of physiological feedback. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 1976, 105, 66–99. (a)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Plotkin, W. B. Appraising the ephemeral “alpha phenomenon”: A reply to Fardt and Kamiya. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 1976, 105, 109–121. (b)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Schachter, S., & Singer, J. Cognitive, social and physiological determinants of emotional state. Psychological Review, 1962, 69, 379–399.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Shapiro, D., Schwartz, G. E., Nelson, S., Shnidman, S., & Silverman, S. Operant control of fear-related electrodermal responses in snake-phobic subjects. Psychophysiology, 1972, 9, 271. (Abstract)Google Scholar
  24. Shnidman, S. R. Instrumental conditioning of orienting responses using positive reinforcement. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1970, 83, 491–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Shnidman, S. R., & Shapiro, D. S. Instrumental modification of elicited autonomic responses. Psychophysiology, 1970, 7, 395–401.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Sirota, A. D. Yeart rate feedback and instructional effects on subjective reaction to aversive stimuli. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University, 1976.Google Scholar
  27. Sirota, A. D., Schwartz, G. E., & Shapiro, D. Voluntary control of human heart rate: Effect on reaction to aversive stimulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1974, 83, 261–267.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sirota, A. D., Schwartz, G. E., & Shapiro, D. Voluntary control of human heart rate: Effect on reaction to aversive stimulation. A replication and extension. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, in press.Google Scholar
  29. Slaughter, J., & Eahn, W. Effects on avoidance performance of vagal stimulation during previous fear conditioning in rats. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 1974, 86, 283–287.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Stoyva, J., & Kamiya, J. Electrophysiological studies of dreaming as the prototype of a new strategy in the study of consciousness. Psychological Review, 1968, 75, 192–205.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Valins, S., & Ray, A. A. Effects of cognitive desensitization on avoidance behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1967, 7, 345–350.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Walsh, D. E. Interactive effects of alpha feedback and instructional set on subjective state. Psychophysiology, 1974, 11, 428–435.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wolpe, J. Psychotherapy by reciprocal inhibition. Stanford, California: University Press, 1958.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Shapiro
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of California at Los AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations