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Neuroimage. 2019 Feb 1;186:256-265. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.11.004. Epub 2018 Nov 10.

Control freaks: Towards optimal selection of control conditions for fMRI neurofeedback studies.

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Department of Cognitive Neuroscience, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands.
Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, Psychiatric Hospital, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland; Neuroscience Center Zürich, University of Zürich and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich, Switzerland; Zürich Center for Integrative Human Physiology (ZIHP), University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.
Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom; School of Mental Health and Neuroscience, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands.
Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, Psychiatry and the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Electronic address:


fMRI Neurofeedback research employs many different control conditions. Currently, there is no consensus as to which control condition is best, and the answer depends on what aspects of the neurofeedback-training design one is trying to control for. These aspects can range from determining whether participants can learn to control brain activity via neurofeedback to determining whether there are clinically significant effects of the neurofeedback intervention. Lack of consensus over criteria for control conditions has hampered the design and interpretation of studies employing neurofeedback protocols. This paper presents an overview of the most commonly employed control conditions currently used in neurofeedback studies and discusses their advantages and disadvantages. Control conditions covered include no control, treatment-as-usual, bidirectional-regulation control, feedback of an alternative brain signal, sham feedback, and mental-rehearsal control. We conclude that the selection of the control condition(s) should be determined by the specific research goal of the study and best procedures that effectively control for relevant confounding factors.


Control conditions; Mental-rehearsal; Neurofeedback; Placebo; Real-time neuroimaging; Sham

[Available on 2020-02-01]
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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