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Non-conscious brain modulation may help PTSD patients forget their fears

Non-conscious brain modulation may help PTSD patients forget their fears
Researchers said they are aiming to use non-conscious brain modulation to help people with PTSD and other anxiety disorders forget their fears. Photo by toubibe/Pixabay

Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Decoded Neurofeedback, or DecNef, is a novel approach to treating a variety of neurological disorders using a combination of artificial intelligence and brain scanning technology.

Brain scans record neural activity in real-time, while artificial intelligence software is used to analyze patterns and pinpoint where different types of information gets stored in the brain.

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Over the last few years, scientists have used DecNef to modulate neural processing patterns toward a variety of ends -- erasing specific fears, boosting confidence and even influencing personal preferences.

Though promising, the technique sometimes fails, and scientists aren't sure why.

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Before DecNef can be deployed clinically, researchers need to better understand how it works -- and why, for some, it remains unsuccessful.

To make that happen, scientists have published datasets from five different DecNef studies, with the hope that other researchers will utilize the data to draw insights into brain modulation patterns.

"In Decoded Neurofeedback experiments, brain scanning is used to monitor activity in the brain, and identify complex patterns of activity that resemble a specific memory or mental state," Mitsuo Kawato, director of the Computational Neuroscience Laboratories at the ATR Institute International in Japan, said in a news release. "When the pattern is detected, we give our experimental participants a small reward."

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"The simple action of repeatedly providing a reward every time the pattern is detected modifies the original memory or mental state," Kawato said. "Importantly, participants do not need to be aware of the patterns' content for this to work."

Kawato is the senior author of the new paper, published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Data, which features five distinct fMRI datasets, each with multiple sessions recorded per participant.

Researchers hope the datasets will be used by other scientists to identify the neural mechanisms underlying non-invasive brain modulation.

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"The Decoded Neurofeedback approach could have major benefits for clinical populations over traditional treatments," said lead author Aurelio Cortese, senior researcher at ATR Institute International.

"Patients could avoid the stress associated with exposure therapies, or side-effects resulting from established drugs. As such, it is crucial we accelerate the development of the Decoded Neurofeedback technique -- and this will only be possible if more scientists will be able to work on the actual data," Cortese said.

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