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biofeedback

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Biofeedback is a system that monitors biological data from users and trains them to improve their physiological responses, with the goal of improving physical and mental health and performance. Conventional biofeedback systems are computer based and connected to external sensors for input; more recent technologies include apps that rely on smartphone sensors and wearable devices that receive input from sensors attached to the user’s body.

Sensors for biofeedback systems monitor biological data such as heart rate, brain waves, blood pressure, breathing patterns, muscular tension, skin conductance and sensitivity to pain. Associated software and/or practices train users to manipulate their physiological responses to reduce stress, improve physical and emotional conditions and enhance functioning.

The user might, for example, habitually clench their teeth, causing tension headaches. In a biofeedback session, the user would be notified about detected muscular tension and reminded to relax their jaw. After sufficient training, the user tends to automatically notice when they clench their jaw and relax it. Eventually, that habit should be broken and the tension headaches caused by it avoided.

Biofeedback is increasingly delivered through a game-like app. Biofeedback-enhanced virtual reality is one example. VR therapy might, for example, guide a phobia or PTSD sufferer through an immersive virtual environment designed to help them remain calm in the presence of stressors. The addition of biofeedback provides information about their physiological responses and helps quantify their improvement over a series of sessions. The game-like aspect tends to make people want to beat previous performance, which spurs their progress.

Biofeedback is one example of what is being called transformative technology – software and hardware systems designed to help people overcome stress and dysfunction and work toward fulfilling their potential.

This was last updated in April 2018

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