What Is Biofeedback?

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Question: What Is Biofeedback?


Biofeedback is a technique that involves using visual or auditory feedback to gain control over involuntary bodily functions. This may include gaining voluntary control over such things as heart rate, muscle tension, blood flow, pain perception and blood pressure.

According to The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback:

"Biofeedback is a process that enables an individual to learn how to change physiological activity for the purposes of improving health and performance. Precise instruments measure physiological activity such as brainwaves, heart function, breathing, muscle activity, and skin temperature. These instruments rapidly and accurately "feed back" information to the user. The presentation of this information — often in conjunction with changes in thinking, emotions, and behavior — supports desired physiological changes. Over time, these changes can endure without continued use of an instrument."

How Is Biofeedback Used?

Biofeedback can be used for a range of applications, including:

  • Treating tension headaches, migraines and other pain
  • Controlling high and low blood pressure
  • Alleviating digestive disorders
  • Helping patients control physical reactions to stress or anxiety
  • Aiding in relaxation and stress management
  • EEG feedback has also been shown to be effective in treating and managing symptoms of certain brain injuries, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In psychology, therapists might use biofeedback to help patients control their response to stress. Chronic stress can have a wide range of negative health effects including decreased immunity, heart disease, depression, digestive problems and sleep disorders. By learning how to manage the stress response using biofeedback, patients are able to decrease the harmful physical and psychological effects of stress.

Why do people choose to try this technique? Biofeedback may appeal in situations where other treatments have not been effective or where people are unable to take certain medications. Biofeedback also teaches people how to control their own responses in stressful situations, which can help people feel more in control.

So how exactly does biofeedback work? By learning how to recognize the physical signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety, such as increased heart rate, body temperature, and muscle tension, people are able to learn how to relax. Scientists believe that it is often the stress response, the body's tendency to go into a state of "fight-or-flight" in order to deal with potential threats, that often exacerbates certain conditions. By learning how to control physiological responses to stress, biofeedback patients are able to learn how to relax their minds and bodies and better cope with the symptoms of stress.

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary


The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. (2011). About biofeedback. Retrieved from http://www.aapb.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3463

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