- Unsplash / Joshua Earle
Biocybernaut is a 7-day retreat that claims it can make you smarter, more creative, and a better athlete or leader. It uses a technique called neurofeedback – putting sensors on your scalp and learning to control your brain waves. Neurofeedback maintains that you can become aware of when your brain is in which state of activity and shift from a less-optimal state to a better one. Can’t focus? You need to shift up into a higher brain frequency. Anxious or angry? You need to shift down into a lower one.
If there were a way to improve your focus, boost your creativity, and make you a better athlete or leader – all without a single pill or side effect – would you do it? What if I told you it only took seven days?
One company promises to provide these results. There’s a catch, of course: It costs $15,000, and the science is still unsure.
The Biocybernaut Institute, created by physicist and psychologist James Hardt, offers a kind of intensive cerebral workout using a type of training called neurofeedback. The neuro-part involves placing a series of sensors on the scalp (kind of like a basic EEG) to track your brain’s electrical activity. The feedback-part involves hooking those sensors up to equipment that gives you a snapshot of your brain activity in real time.
The method is aimed at letting participants gain control of their own brain waves.
And if you can control your brain waves, they say, you can control, well, everything – from how creative and attentive you are to how driven and focused you are during a presentation or an athletic event. Can’t focus? You need to know how to shift up into a higher brain frequency. Anxious or angry? You need to shift down into a lower one.
“I always say … it’s the greatest technology that nobody’s ever heard of,” Alice Miller, a Biocybernaut trainer, told Business Insider.
‘Maximize your potential’
Founder James Hardt claims his retreats, held mostly in darkened chambers in Sedona, Arizona; Bavaria, Germany; and Victoria, British Columbia, will “expand your awareness more than 20 years of Zen meditation.”
Entrepreneur Tony Robbins is a big fan. His testimonial, featured prominently on Biocybernaut’s site, reads:
“Biocybernaut is one of the most valuable things I’ve done in my life.”
That training goes like this: In unlit rooms, or “chambers,” as the institute calls them, participants do rotations of auditory and visual feedback. For 2 minutes, they close their eyes and listen to various tones that are paired with specific brain wave frequencies. (The louder the tone, the higher their brain wave frequency. The softer the tone, the lower their brain wave frequency.) Then for 8 seconds, they see colored numbers on a screen designed to tell them “which direction” their brain waves appear to be moving – either up into a higher frequency, or down into a lower one.
Miller says people make intense progress even though the retreat only lasts seven days.
“The people who come in on day one are not the same people who leave on day seven,” she said, adding, “After they do this training people just want more. They start businesses, they get promotions, they change.”
Though that might sound insane, there is some scientific evidence to back it up the technique – but it only goes so far.
Our electric brains
- Unsplash / Marina Vitale
The first person to measure the brain’s electricity was Austrian psychiatrist Hans Berger, who reported a technique for “recording the electrical activity of the human brain from the surface of the head” in 1924. It was the world’s first electroencephalogram, or EEG.
Today, we know that most of the electrical activity from the scalp falls in a range of roughly 1 to 20 Hertz (Hz). Neuroscientists typically divide this activity into 4 specific ranges, or bands. Each level corresponds to a specific type of alertness – at the lowest, called delta, you’re literally asleep; at the highest, called beta, you’re focused and attentive.
It breaks down like this:
- Delta: 1-4 Hz – activity your brain emits while you’re asleep Theta: 4-8 Hz – what your brain waves might look like when you’re “zoning off” or not really paying attention Alpha: 8-12 Hz – your relaxed but wakeful state Beta: 12-30 Hz – the the brain waves your noggin tends to emit when you’re sharply focused
Neurofeedback operates on the principal that you can become aware of when your brain is in which state – or band of activity – and then consciously shift from a less-optimal state to a better one.
If you can’t focus and your brain is showing lots of theta activity, the logic goes, you’d want to shift up into an alpha or beta state. If you’re anxious and angry and your brain is trapped in beta, you want to shift down into alpha or theta.
Miller claims that if you use neurofeedback technology to practice doing this for long enough, your brain will start to make those transitions on its own.
“Say you went and you yelled at the checkout person, maybe three times a week you have this issue,” she says. “With the training, you come back and realize, ‘You know what, I haven’t lost my cool at the checkout for three months!’ The triggers are gone. You won’t even realize it. You’re operating completely differently.”
Unfortunately, scientific research on neurofeedback doesn’t support the vast majority of these claims. (There is one application of neurofeedback that is both promising and well-researched – but only appeals to a very specific population: People with ADHD.)
- Unsplash / Todd Quackenbush
In a 2005 review on the use of neurofeedback in athletes, David Vernon, a professor of psychology at Canterbury Christ Church in the UK, concluded that “the plethora of claims regarding the use of neurofeedback training to enhance performance is matched only by the paucity of research showing a clear effect.”
Vernon and his team also looked at studies of neurofeedback’s mood-enhancing capabilities in another review. They concluded that “the notion that alpha neurofeedback can enhance the mood of healthy individuals has yet to be firmly established.”
Nevertheless, Miller says she’s hoping Biocybernaut will expand and continue to reach more people.
“It sounds like we’re selling snake oil. ‘It does this, does that, it even butters your toast!’ But it’s true,” she says. “We see it every single time. People leave and say ‘Oh my gosh how come nobody knows about this?'”