Unconscious brain modulation to remove fears, increase self-confidence

In recent years, researchers have discovered ways to remove specific fears from the brain, increase self-confidence, or even change people’s preferences, using a combination of artificial intelligence and brain scanning technology. Their technique could lead to new treatments for patients with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias or anxiety disorders.

But while this technique is extremely promising, it remains unsuccessful in some individuals. Why are there such differences in outcome? A better understanding of how the brain can self-regulate its own patterns of activity would greatly help establish a technique for clinical use. Researchers who have led this technique have released a unique set of data to the community (which includes five different studies), in an attempt to speed up the translation from basic science to application.

The technique is called ‘Decoded Neurofeedback’ and is based on a method of reading and identifying certain information in the brain – for example, remembering fear. Dr. Mitsuo Kawato, director of the Computer Neuroscience Laboratory at ATR Institute International in Japan, and a senior author at work and who pioneered the technique ten years ago, explained, “In decoded neurofeedback experiments, brain scans are used to monitor activity brain and identify complex patterns of activity that resemble a particular memory or mental state.When a pattern is discovered, we give our experimental participants a small reward.Simple action of re-awarding each time the pattern is discovered modifies the original memory or mental state.It is important that participants do not need be aware of the content of the forms to make this work. ”

Dr. Aurelio Cortese, a senior researcher at ATR Institute International and lead author, explained the vision of the data release: “The decoded neurofeedback approach could be of great benefit to the clinical population compared to traditional treatments. Patients could avoid stress associated with therapy exposure or side effects resulting from established drugs. As such, it is crucial to accelerate the development of the Decoded Neurofeedback technique – and this will only be possible if more scientists are able to work on the actual data. ”


The research group built a valuable neuroimaging database with more than 60 people who underwent decoded neurofeedback training. This database consists of structural brain images, functional brain images, machine learning decoders, and additional processed data. Anyone wishing to use the dataset must log in via the ATR institutional repository [1] or Synapse [2], an online repository of neuroscientific data. Details of access to the dataset are provided in the original publication, as well as on the ATR and Synapse websites.

[1] Institutional ATR repository

[2] Synapse

Cortese A, Tanaka SC, Amano K, Koizumi A, Lau H, Sasaki Y, Shibata K, Taschereau-Dumouchel V, Watanabe T, Kawato M. “DecNef Collection, fMRI data from an experiment with decoded closed-loop neurofeedback” Scientific data.

The original five studies included in the dataset are listed below:

Study 1: Shibata K, Watanabe T, Kawato M, Sasaki Y (2016) Differential patterns of activation in the same region of the brain led to opposite emotional states: PLoS Biol. 14 (9): e1002546. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pbio.1002546.

Study 2: Amano K, Shibata K, Kawato M, Sasaki Y, Watanabe T (2016) Learning to link color orientation in early visual areas by associative decoded fMRI neurofeedback. Curr Biol. 26 (14): 1861-1866. doi: 10.1016 / j.cub.2016.05.014.

Study 3: Koizumi A, Amano K, Cortese A, Shibata K, Yoshida W, Seymour B, Kawato M, Lau H (2016) Reducing fear without fear by enhancing neural activity that bypasses conscious exposure. Nat Hum Behav. 1: 0006. doi: 10.1038 / s41562-016-0006.

Study 4: Cortese A, Amano K, Koizumi A, Kawato M, Lau H (2016) Multivoxel neurofeedback selectively modulates confidence without altering perceptual performance. Nat Commun. 7: 13669. doi: 10.1038 / ncomms13669.

Study 5: Taschereau-Dumouchel V, Cortese A, Chiba T, Knotts JD, Kawato M, Lau H (2018) Towards unconscious nerve enhancement intervention for common fears. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 115 (13): 3470-3475. doi: 10.1073 / p.1721572115.

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