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 games.

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 and

“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 entertainment value.

“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

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

“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

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NOTE TO EDITORS: Still images are available from Keith Henry at and video from Kim Land at or 757/864-9885.