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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 20th May 2016 > RIGGING THE MIND GAME


A disregarded old technology can rewire brains and treat many cognitive and physical ailments


WILL STRAHL walked up to my door with a massive black briefcase in his hand, the kind you could use to tote a dirty bomb. Once inside my living room, he cracked open the case and removed a laptop, a small amplifier, a resealable plastic bag of stainless steel–tipped electrodes and a jar of conductive gel. He applied the gel to the peak of my forehead, then attached electrodes to my skull and ground wires to my ears. I was about to play a video game with my brain.

To succeed, I needed only to keep the car moving, the music playing and a gray fog from enshrouding the entire screen. To pull off those feats, I had to keep my mind as calm and focused as possible. If I closed my eyes or clenched my jaw or shifted in my seat, the car stalled or the screen went gray or the music faded to a whisper. There were other cars in the race, but the true objective wasn’t to beat them. It was to rebalance my brain.

Strahl is a doctoral student in psychology at Pacific University in Portland, Oregon, but before that he worked for a neurologist in Los Angeles who founded a company called the Peak Brain Institute, which has ventured into neurofeedback, a decades-old field of neuroscience that word-of-mouth and some new technology have made newly popular. The promise of neurofeedback is to shift our brain waves back to health without drugs, exercise or even meditation. Clients suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, anger or depression can simply sit in a comfortable chair for half-hour sessions with a few wires protruding from their scalp and get a mental tune-up, if not a complete rewiring of an off-kilter brain.

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