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Manipulating motor performance and memory through real-time fMRI neurofeedback

Publication year 2015
Published in Biological Psychology
Authors Frank Scharnowski, Ralf Veit, Regine Zopf, Petra Studer, Simon Bock, Jörn Diedrichsen, R. Goebel, Klaus Mathiak, Niels Birbaumer, Nikolaus Weiskopf

Task performance depends on ongoing brain activity which can be influenced by attention, arousal, or motivation. However, such modulating factors of cognitive efficiency are unspecific, can be difficult to control, and are not suitable to facilitate neural processing in a regionally specific manner. Here, we non-pharmacologically manipulated regionally specific brain activity using technically sophisticated real-time fMRI neurofeedback. This was accomplished by training participants to simultaneously control ongoing brain activity in circumscribed motor and memory-related brain areas, namely the supplementary motor area and the parahippocampal cortex. We found that learned voluntary control over these functionally distinct brain areas caused functionally specific behavioral effects, i.e. shortening of motor reaction times and specific interference with memory encoding. The neurofeedback approach goes beyond improving cognitive efficiency by unspecific psychological factors such as attention, arousal, or motivation. It allows for directly manipulating sustained activity of task-relevant brain regions in order to yield specific behavioral or cognitive effects.

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