00-123 August 10, 2000
For decades doctors have used biofeedback as a way
to help control stress and tension. Now NASA technology
adds a new twist by combining this mind-over-matter
technique with the hand-eye coordination of video
According to researchers at NASA's Langley Research
Center in Hampton, VA, the results may actually improve
and protect a player's mental and physical health.
This unique interactive system, tested at Eastern
Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, trains
people to change their brainwave activity or other
physiological functions while playing popular off-the-shelf
video games. This is accomplished by making the video
game respond to the activity of the player's body
"Thirty years of biofeedback research has shown that
by training specific brainwave changes, or reductions
in other abnormal physiological signals, people can
achieve a wide variety of health-enhancing outcomes,"
said Dr. Olafur Palsson, assistant professor of psychiatry
and family medicine at EVMS. "With this new technology,
we have found a way to package this training in an
enjoyable and inherently motivating activity."
Signals from sensors attached to the player's head
and body are fed through a signal-processing unit
to a video game joystick or other control device.
As the player's brainwaves come closer to an optimal,
stress-free pattern, the video game's joystick becomes
easier to control. This encourages the player to produce
these patterns or signals to succeed at the game.
In this way, recreational video games have the potential
to help both children and adults with a variety of
health problems -- from concentration difficulties
to physical stress.
Unlike earlier biofeedback methods, which tended to
be monotonous and simplistic, this technology adapts
to today's most popular games, giving players a healthful
side effect, while fully preserving the high-tech
"This technology is a spin-off of NASA research where
we measure the brain activity of pilots in flight
simulators, " added co-inventor Alan Pope, Ph.D.,
of Langley's Crew/Vehicle Integration Branch. "Flight
simulators are essentially very sophisticated video
games." Pope is an adjunct research assistant professor
in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at EVMS.
In addition, in what could be called a "spin-back"
application, NASA is studying ways to use the technology
for pilot training.
Early results from a video game biofeedback study
suggest that the technology is effective. In this
first test, to be completed this fall, the technology
is being applied as a treatment for attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD,
between the ages of 9 and 14, either play popular
video games or receive more traditional brainwave
biofeedback treatment. Both forms of treatment help
the children's symptoms, but the video game treatment
seems to have distinct advantages.
"The main difference we see between the groups so
far is in motivation -- the children in the video
game group enjoy the sessions more and it is easier
for the parents to get them to come to our clinic,"
said Dr. Palsson, principal investigator in the study
and co-inventor of the technology.
"This technology could be in homes all over the country
within the next two or three years," according to
David Shannon of Langley's commercialization office.
"Several companies have applied for a license to produce
training systems for the general public."
Michael Braukus Headquarters, Washington, DC
Keith Henry Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA
Jane Gardner Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk,