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Neuroscience. 2018 May 15;378:189-197. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2017.06.007. Epub 2017 Jun 19.

Frontal Alpha Oscillations and Attentional Control: A Virtual Reality Neurofeedback Study.

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University College London, United Kingdom.
Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom. Electronic address:


Two competing views about alpha oscillations suggest that cortical alpha reflect either cortical inactivity or cortical processing efficiency. We investigated the role of alpha oscillations in attentional control, as measured with a Stroop task. We used neurofeedback to train 22 participants to increase their level of alpha amplitude. Based on the conflict/control loop theory, we selected to train prefrontal alpha and focus on the Gratton effect as an index of deployment of attentional control. We expected an increase or a decrease in the Gratton effect with increase in neural learning depending on whether frontal alpha oscillations reflect cortical idling or enhanced processing efficiency, respectively. In order to induce variability in neural learning beyond natural occurring individual differences, we provided half of the participants with feedback on alpha amplitude in a 3-dimensional (3D) virtual reality environment and the other half received feedback in a 2D environment. Our results showed variable neural learning rates, with larger rates in the 3D compared to the 2D group, corroborating prior evidence of individual differences in EEG-based learning and the influence of a virtual environment. Regression analyses revealed a significant association between the learning rate and changes on deployment of attentional control, with larger learning rates being associated with larger decreases in the Gratton effect. This association was not modulated by feedback medium. The study supports the view of frontal alpha oscillations being associated with efficient neurocognitive processing and demonstrates the utility of neurofeedback training in addressing theoretical questions in the non-neurofeedback literature.


cognitive control; electroencephalography; neurofeedback; virtual reality

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