Autonomic Nervous System Regulation

Perhaps the most paradigm-shifting example of biofeedback comes from the applications to modify autonomic parameters. Until the 1960s it was widely believed that the autonomic nervous system, with its sympathetic branch supporting fight-flight and its parasympathetic branch supporting restoration and homeostasis, perhaps could be modified by Pavlovian or classical conditioning, but not by operant conditioning. It was thought that one might be able to condition a "reflex" to a neutral stimulus (bell-meat for a dog) but that the system could not be brought under voluntary control.

In 1969, Neil Miller at Rockefeller University published the results of several studies that showed definitive regulation of autonomic processes such as heart speeding and slowing, urine formation, peripheral blood flow, and blood pressure in lower mammals. The studies were notable because the animals were paralyzed with curare, ruling out any voluntary mediation of the regulation. Miller later showed that quadriplegics suffering from hypotension could raise their blood pressure with a biofeedback protocol in a similar manner. Although the original results have failed to be replicated, the publication of the work produced a shift in paradigm with respect to the autonomic nervous system. Several demonstrations of regulation have been published.

Biofeedback Mastery

Biofeedback Mastery

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