January 18, 2024
Noting that “The efficacy of surface electroencephalographic neurofeedback (EEG‐NF) for improving attentional performance assessed by laboratory measures in patients with attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) remains unclear,” a Taiwanese study team systematically searched seven databases, including the U.S. clinical trials database, for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) through January of 2022.
They identified fourteen RCTs with a combined 718 participants that met criteria for inclusion in meta-analysis. The net outcome was a small-to-medium effect size improvement in attentional performance for participants receiving EEG neurofeedback by contrast with “comparators.”
The comparators varied widely: waitlist, treatment as usual, physical exercise, behavioral therapy, attention skills training, computer-aided attention training, medications, electromyographic biofeedback, sham EEG neurofeedback. This alone brings into question the meta-analysis outcome.
But there were additional methodological shortcomings. There was strong evidence of publication bias. And though the authors promised, “On encountering funnel plot asymmetry, potentially missing studies were imputed by using the Duval and Tweedie’s trim and fill method,” they never shared the outcome.
Another shortcoming was that only two of the fourteen RCTs blinded the participants, meaning that in twelve RCTs the participants were likely to be aware they were in the EEG neurofeedback group rather than the control group. And that made all the difference. The twelve unblinded RCTs were responsible for all the small-to-medium effect size improvement. There was no sign of improvement in the two blinded RCTs.
The authors tried to give a positive spin to these results, stating “our results supported the use of surface EEG-NF for improving attentional performance through the modulation of basic neurocognitive functioning in patients with ADHD,” while conceding, “However, given the small number of trials and the poor methodological qualities regarding blinding, our findings need to be judiciously interpreted and warrant further investigations for validation.”
A more candid assessment of this meta-analysis would be the one they began with: “The efficacy of surface electroencephalographic neurofeedback (EEG‐NF) for improving attentional performance assessed by laboratory measures in patients with attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) remains unclear.”
Hsien‐Jane Chiu, Cheuk‐Kwan Sun, Hsin‐Yi Fan, Ruu‐Fen Tzang, Ming‐Yu Wang, Ying‐Chih Cheng, Yu‐Shian Cheng, Pin‐Yang Yeh, and Weilun Chung, “Surface electroencephalographic neurofeedback improves sustained attention in ADHD: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials” Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2022), 16:104, https://doi.org/10.1186/s13034-022-00543-1.