Richard Caton — Caton, an English physician, was the first to discover that the brain generated electricity.
Hans Berger — Berger, a German psychiatrist, experimented on patients who had part of their skull exposed due to prior medical conditions. This made the signals much easier to access. He made the first published human electroencephalograms, and wrote a paper in 1929 called “On the Electroencephalogram in Man.” In total he published approximately 14 reports about his studies of EEGs, and much of our modern knowledge of the subject, especially in the middle frequencies, is due to his research. Berger was asked to “retire” his work when in 1938 he refused an Nazi order to fire his Jewish staff members.
Barry Sterman — After Sterman received his PhD at UCLA in neurology and psychology, he accepted a position as a sleep researcher at the Veterans Hospital in Los Angeles. Sterman set out to answer whether a person chose to go to sleep at night or the brain imposed sleep upon us. Prior work by Pavlov indicated that it was indeed a choice, and Sterman set out to replicate Pavlov’s experiments only this time while looking at the EEG.
In the late 1960s, Sterman began to experiment on thirty cats. First the cats were conditioned to press a lever to get a reward of broth. Next, a tone was added. The cats had to wait until a tone stopped before they could press the lever to get the reward. To the surprise of the researchers, the cats entered a unique state after this variable was introduced. The cats remained absolutely still, though extremely alert, waiting for the tone to finish – the same state a cat enters while hunting in the wild. Sterman named this low beta frequency sensorimotor rhythm or SMR. Over the course of about 12 months, Sterman and his team trained one group of cats to produce 12 to 15 hertz at will, and other group to inhibit SMR.
The reason why we call the cats in Sterman’s experiment “happy cats” is that they appeared to enjoy the work since they ran down the hall when the experiment was about to commence. Perhaps the cats intuitively knew the training was good for them. Not only did the cats’ sleep improve throughout the course of the study, sleeping more soundly with a statistically significant decrease in the number of times they woke, but their neurofeedback training served them well in the future when they were placed in another, not as benign, study.
The next study the Sterman cats were assigned to was with Gordon Allies, a pharmaceutical researcher. Gordon Allies received a contract from the army to research the toxicity of rocket fuel. This experiment did not involve happy cats, however, cats that had come from neurofeedback study faired notably better than did their counterparts. The cats who were taught to produce SMR had increased their seizure thresholds allowing them to delay, minimize or prevent seizures from the toxic gas. The cats who had not been in the neurofeedback study were not as fortunate.
The Sterman study was very significant in that it demonstrated there was a clear connection between the brain and physiology. The cats’ brain function had improved allowing them to be more resistant to the spread of slow theta waves that cause seizures.
Joe Kamiya — Kamiya, an American neuroscientist, popularized neurofeedback when an article about the alpha brain wave was published in Psychology Today in 1968.