Study Demonstrates That Training with Neureka! Enhances Happiness, Decreases Depression, and Improves Cognitive Function and Memory
A study performed by Dr. Estate Sokhadze at the University of Louisville showed all of these positive changes from only five hours of training with the Peak BrainHappiness Trainer. A follow-up survey taken after the study showed the subjects had effortlessly remained just as happy for 4 months. This led to the hypothesis that the results of this study may also indicate that this training can improve long term health.
There were two goals for this preliminary study, which is being published in Adolescent Psychiatry. One aim was to compare the results of potential substance abusers (who had been in legal trouble for substance use but did not meet the criteria for substance abuse used by psychiatrists) with normal controls (university staff and students). It turned out that the results from the five potential substance abusers were no different from the 6 normal controls. The results from both groups were combined and used to measure the effects of 12 sessions of the Neureka! training in the Peak BrainHappiness Trainer, the second goal. Sessions were conducted approximately once a week and lasted approximately 25 minutes. The subjects viewed DVDs with beautiful scenes from the BBC series, Planet Earth, during the training sessions with the Peak BrainHappiness Design. When their Neureka! values increased, the size of the DVD picture that was displayed also increased proportionately until the screen was full. They were asked to increase the picture's size as much as possible. If their attention waned and the Focus measure went below a certain level, the picture began to dim and then it would stop until they became engaged again.
Happiness enhancement. The study used a question about happiness that was drawn from the Household Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia Survey, so that we could relate the results to those in an article about how happiness improves subsequent health: "During the past four weeks, have you been a happy person?" The six responses and their scores were: (6) all of the time, (5) most of the time, (4) a good bit of the time, (3) some of the time, (2) a little of the time, and (1) none of the time. The mean happiness rating for the group increased from 3.45 to 4.18, or by 21%. If you average the individual percentages, the increase was 32%, as shown in the graph. This may actually underestimate the effect, because 4 of the 11 subjects started out with happiness ratings of (5) most of the time. Since very few people will ever say they are happy all of the time, they had no way to show any improvement. If we eliminate those 4 people, the improvement in happiness was 44%, from 2.57 to 3.71, or 50% by the other method. More on happiness and health below.
Lower depression scores. The Beck Depression Inventory is a very well known and accepted measure of depressed mood, which is filled out by the client and yeilds a score that increases with the degree of depressed mood. The scores before training averaged 8.45, with three subjects at or above the cutoff for a clinical diagnosis of the illness of depression* of 15. After training, the average was 5.45, a highly significant 35% improvement, or 27% by the other method, shown in the figure. None of the scores were above 15. The highest (worst) score improved from 21 to 13.
Attention. There were very significant improvements in attention after 12 sessions of training, measured by the IVA+ test. Most notable were improvements after training in the Attention Quotient (t=3.46, p=0.006), Sustained Auditory Attention Quotient (t=3.19, p=0.01), Sustained Visual Attention Quotient (t=3.13, p=0.01), and Auditory Reaction Time (t=2.41, p=0.04). These improvements are actually substantially larger than our studies using the Focus training protocol.
Cognitive performance and memory. The MicroCog is a brief computerized assessment of cognitive functioning, developed at Harvard and primarily intended to screen for impairments in thinking. It produces an overall summary score, General Cognitive Functioning, combining processing speed and accuracy measurements for all the tests it offers. After only five hours of training, there was a very significant (p < .001) 7% increase. General Cognitive Processing was increased by 6%. The next level of summary indicated that the improvements were all due to better Information Processing Accuracy (13% increase, p < .05) rather than Information Processing Speed (1.5% change). More specifically, the largest increase was in memory (13%), significant at the p < .05 level. There were two improvements--Attention/Mental Control and Reasoning--that were almost significant. The other two categories, Spatial Processing and Reaction Time, were not improved at all. This indicates a very selective improvement in brain function, particularly centered around memory accuracy. It is consistent with the hypotheses we made several years ago when we wrote the Neureka! manual.
Enhanced happiness and improved health. There are several studies which indicate that enhanced happiness leads to improved health. The most thorough study was done by the Department of Labour in Australia and analyzed and published in the American Journal of Health Promotion by Siahpush, Spittal and Singh. They looked at two representative population-based samples of 9981 people surveyed in 2001 and 2004. They examined the relationship between happiness in 2001 and their health in 2004. In 2001, they used the question about happiness that we copied, and corrected their calculations for health problems noted in that year. The survey data from 2004 found that the odds of reporting good (or better) health were 50% better for those who were happy most or all of the time in 2001. Similarly, the odds of having no limiting, long term health conditions were 53% better.
We did a follow-up evaluation on the participants in the Neureka! training study approximately four months later. As the Figure shows, the average improvement in happiness for the combined groups did not change. In fact, the significance level was slightly better than right after training, p = .01. If we eliminated those who started out with ratings of 5 and couldn’t improve, the significance levels were slightly better. The Drug Abuse subgroup was significantly improved by itself (p=.035), and even more so after eliminating the one “5” rating (p=.028). The Control group, which started out with a slightly higher average Happiness level (3.67) than the Drug Abusers (3.2), did not show a significant improvement (p=.44), even after eliminating the three “5s” (p=.09).
Putting the two studies together supports the idea that training with the Peak BrainHappiness Trainer may produce long-term improvements in health. We know that the improvements due to neurofeedback are typically long-lasting, if not permanent, after a sufficient number of sessions, and we expect that Neureka! training is no exception. Since we used the same Happiness question, it seems legitimate to hypothesize that as few as 12 sessions of Neureka! Training may improve long-term health.
However, the most prudent approach to improving happiness and health would be to continue to do Neureka! training sessions on a regular basis. You may continue to improve with more sessions. Our choice of 12 sessions was just an arbitrary one, but after later review it was discovered that 12 sessions appeared to be sufficient to produce a major improvement.
This is the fourth study on Neureka! and happiness, all confirming our original ideas. You can find information on the first study by Dr. Beverly Rubik here, and the other two studies on this page. The last three studies were presented at the 2010 meeting of the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research, as papers and part of a workshop, "Gamma: The New Frontier".
*Clinical depression is diagnosed by professionals on the basis of a number of factors, often including mood tests like the Beck Depression Inventory. We are not making any claims about clinical depression or any clinical mental health condition.
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