Updated: May 31, 2019
Answer: Neurofeedback training can produce an increase in IQ of more than a standard deviation. What does that mean?
A standard approach to ADHD is a protocol with decades of scientific research and clinical practice behind it called, in our nomenclature, the SMR protocol. It is a well-established, respected, widely acknowledged protocol that helps ADHD better than any other approach. It works better than medication, better than behavioral training for the most common type of ADHD. But neurofeedback trainers are always getting bogged down just trying to explain to skeptical parents that it really will make a huge difference in their child’s future because any reduction in ADHD symptoms measured over the course of a life will change the trajectory of that life. We don’t always get around to talking about the boost in IQ because the conversation is about ADHD and the child’s symptoms and the difficulty the child is having in school. What we don’t talk about is that neurofeedback training will do more than help with ADHD. It will, on top of that, make their child smarter. Not by a little, but by a significant amount.
Research studies are showing that SMR training increases global IQ scores by an average of 20 points which is more than a standard deviation (The range of average increases across studies is between 9 points and 23 points. Note that these are average increases. That there were increases among subjects in excess of 23 points seems inconceivable, but there were. See the graphs below)
Most tests measuring intelligence are standardized on a mean or average score of 100 with a standard deviation of 15 points. The point system, based statistically on standard deviations, can be used to estimate how an individual relates to all of the people who have taken the test. If the score is a standard deviation above the mean of 100, their score of 115 would be better than 84% of the population. If the score is a standard deviation below the mean, at 85, they would be scoring better than 16% of the population. So if a client with an average IQ score of 100 (better than 50% of the population), has only an average response to a course of SMR training (average increase of 20 points), their score would be more than a standard deviation above 100 at 120 points. That would put them in the 91 st percentile, or brighter than 91% of the population.
So what does IQ tell us about anything, about a person’s life? Does it really measure the value of a person’s life? Of course not. I have found in my own experience that each person has her or his own area of genius, or pattern of abilities, insights, understandings, and these patterns indicate something immeasurable in them, and immensely valuable. No test will capture this. So, is IQ just a number? Well, no.
IQ, as we are currently measuring it, predicts our level of educational attainment, and it predicts how well we will do in our jobs. Higher IQ also predicts higher income. These things have some kind of face validity to them, that how smart you are predicts how well you will do and how much money you might make as a result. IQ has cultural currency in our society. But there’s more.
What do you value? And there are so many answers to that. People will say, though, that they value their health, and higher IQ predicts better health. Long life? Yes. A higher IQ predicts a longer life more than any other variable that we have come up with. Hmmmm.
Having just reread some of the research on the SMR protocol and increases in IQ, I’m encouraged because I am being trained myself with SMR (2017), and I don’t know about anybody else, but I could use the 20 point boost in IQ. I have a lot on my plate, I’m challenged every day, and in terms of my age I’m due for the effects of age related cognitive decline. Why would I not take the time to take care of my brain. My mind is in there. I love my mind.
SMR and IQ increase Research citations
An average of 9 IQ points improvement (Linden et al., 1996) Linden, M., Habib, T., & Radojevic, V. (1996). A controlled study of the effects of EEG biofeedback on cognition and behavior of children with attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities. Biofeedback and Self Regulation, 21 (1), 35-49.
An average of 9.7 points improvement (Lubar et al, 1995) Lubar, J. F., Swartwood, M. O., Swartwood, J. N., & O'Donnell, P. H. (1995). Evaluation of the effectiveness of EEG neurofeedback training for ADHD in a clinical setting as measured by changes in TOVA scores, behavioral ratings, and WISC-R performance. Biofeedback and Self Regulation, 20 (1), 83-99. Scientific Articles 45
An average of 12 IQ point improvement (Thompson & Thompson,1998) Thompson, L., & Thompson, M. (1998). Neurofeedback combined with training in metacognitive strategies: Effectiveness in students with ADD. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 23 (4), 243- 263.
An average of 19 IQ point improvement (Tansey, 1990) Tansey, M. A. (1990). Righting the rhythms of reason: EEG biofeedback training as a therapeutic modality in a clinical office setting. Medical Psychotherapy: An International Journal, 3, 57-68.
Tansey, M. A. (1991). Wechsler (WISC-R) changes following treatment of learning disabilities via EEG biofeedback training in a private practice setting. Australian Journal of Psychology, 43, 147-153.
An average of 23 IQ points improvement (Othmer, Othmer, & Kaiser, 1999) Othmer, S., Othmer, S. F.,&Kaiser, D. A. (1999). EEG biofeedback: Training for AD/HD and related disruptive behavior disorders. In D. Tessmer (Ed.), Understanding, diagnosing, & treating AD/HD in children and adolescents (pp. 235-297). NewYork: Aronson.see
Case study, twins, 23 and 22 IQ points improvement, Fleischman, MJ, Othmer, S., (2005). Case Study: Improvements in IQ Score and Maintenance of Gains Following EEG Biofeedback with Mildly Developmentally Delayed Twins. Journal of Neurotherapy, 9 (4) (IQ gains held at 52 month retest).
The gains in IQ score made by the fifteen participants is shown in Figure 4, here plotted in rank-ordered fashion. The average gain in IQ score was 23, and all those who started the training with measured IQs of 100 or under gained at least thirty points. (Sigfried Othmer, EEG Info, see Othmer, Othmer, Kaiser study above.)