The 4 differences between biofeedback and neurofeedback

While it may not be one of the most well-known procedures, biofeedback and neurofeedback are treatments that are gradually gaining increasing applicability in different disorders, both medical and psychiatric. These are two techniques that are often closely associated, with neurofeedback being one of the existing types of biofeedback. But even so, there are differences between the two concepts. In this way, we will devote this article to talking about the differences between biofeedback and neurofeedback.

    Definition of the two concepts

    There are slight differences between neurofeedback and other types of biofeedback, but before you can determine which ones in the first place, it is necessary to give a brief description of each of these concepts.

    Biofeedback: basic description

    It is known under the name of biofeedback for this set of techniques used at the therapeutic level which base its operation on awareness of biological and physiological processes which carries our body in different problematic situations. This awareness is achieved using different procedures or technologies, and it is expected that after this, the subject will not only recognize but also come to voluntarily control generally unconscious biological processes.

    The main objectives of this technique are to gain control of the physiological system, to learn to maintain self-control of this system in the absence of biofeedback and to generalize this self-control.

    The type of responses or biological elements that one can try to regulate by means of this technique is very varied, and can belong to almost any body system. Examples are temperature, electrodermal activity, muscle control, heart rate or blood volume in a given area. In addition, the instruments used for its measurement are very variable. Based on the items measured, one can find different types of biofeedback, electromyography being one of the best known (based on muscle activity).

    It has been used to have proven efficacy in various disorders and diseases, such as neurological, heart, muscle, intestinal, respiratory, chronic pain, allergies, or psychological issues such as stress or anxiety.


      In terms of neurofeedback, we are ahead a specialization of the above technique which is based on the control of the electrophysiological activity of the brain itself. In other words, in this type of biofeedback, the recording of the electrical activity of the brain is used to train the subject in its control by its visualization.

      The recorded brain waves will be converted into a signal which will be used to teach the control of brain activity patterns. It is possible that the patient sees his encephalogram directly or that this signal is analyzed beforehand and processed in such a way that it transforms into different visual stimuli (for example, numbers) or topographic maps of the brain which make it possible to visualize areas 3D brain and their activity.

      This type of biofeedback is very useful for training in various skills and for patients to observe their brain activity in disorders or problems such as insomnia, epilepsy, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, memory problems, lack of impulse control, learning problems, aphasia and other language problems or anxiety or stress levels. Also in paralysis and paresthesias, eating disorders or urinary incontinence.

      Main differences between biofeedback and neurofeedback

      As we have seen through its definition, biofeedback and neurofeedback are two techniques that have many similarities, in fact neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback. however, they present a series of differential characteristics which could lead to separate the two types of techniques. These include the following.

      1. Level of specificity

      One of the sharpest differences visible from the beginning of the article is the level of specificity of the two techniques. Neurofeedback, also known as electroencephalographic biofeedback, is a specific type of biofeedback aimed at learning to control patterns of brain activity. The term biofeedback would encompass this and other types of biofeedback, being necessary to specify the type of biological information to work on.

      2. Processes we are working on

      Although the goal of biofeedback and neurofeedback is to help patients learn to control unconscious processes in principle in such a way that these processes do not escape their control and cause them damage, the truth is that areas of application are slightly different from each other. .

      In general, at the level of biofeedback, one works most often at the level of the control of the chosen activity, that is to say by learning to control the respiratory or cardiac activity for example, or the flow of blood towards certain parts of the body. this it can also be used psychologically to reduce anxiety or stress levels, But mainly applies to bodily aspects.

      However, neurofeedback attempts to give some control over the level of activation of the brain. While this includes some corporeality, the aspects that will be particularly affected are primarily mental, having to control mental activation in order to bring about changes in the brain pattern.

      3. Level of complexity

      Another possible difference between neurofeedback and other types of biofeedback occurs in the level of complexity involved in measuring and using the technique. And while muscle or even respiratory control is a concept that is not uncommon and easy to see how to perform (although it may be more complex than it looks), it The same is not true when it comes to patterns of brain activity. We are not used to trying to exert some control over this organ, and it can be a bit abstract to understand that certain ways of acting correspond to the stimulus presented to us.

      4. Technical difficulties

      The aforementioned complexity can not only on a practical level, but also on a methodological level. And it is that to correctly register the encephalographic activity and to indicate in addition the zones responsible for this one presents more difficulties than the register of other types of activities, although at present there is more and more knowledge of mapping and knowledge of brain function.

      It should also be noted that the activity necessary to activate certain brain reactions in each brain this can vary greatly depending on the nerve configuration or even the personality of the patient.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Carrobles, JA (2016). Bio / neurofeedback. Clinic and Health, 27 (3): 125-131.

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