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Publication details for Dr Niklas Ihssen

Ihssen, N., Sokunbi, M. O., Lawrence, A. D., Lawrence, N. S. & Linden, D. E. J. (2017). Neurofeedback of visual food cue reactivity: a potential avenue to alter incentive sensitization and craving. Brain Imaging and Behavior 11(3): 915-924.

Author(s) from Durham


FMRI-based neurofeedback transforms functional brain activation in real-time into sensory stimuli that participants can use to self-regulate brain responses, which can aid the modification of mental states and behavior. Emerging evidence supports the clinical utility of neurofeedback-guided up-regulation of hypoactive networks. In contrast, down-regulation of hyperactive neural circuits appears more difficult to achieve. There are conditions though, in which down-regulation would be clinically useful, including dysfunctional motivational states elicited by salient reward cues, such as food or drug craving. In this proof-of-concept study, 10 healthy females (mean age = 21.40 years, mean BMI = 23.53) who had fasted for 4 h underwent a novel ‘motivational neurofeedback’ training in which they learned to down-regulate brain activation during exposure to appetitive food pictures. FMRI feedback was given from individually determined target areas and through decreases/increases in food picture size, thus providing salient motivational consequences in terms of cue approach/avoidance. Our preliminary findings suggest that motivational neurofeedback is associated with functionally specific activation decreases in diverse cortical/subcortical regions, including key motivational areas. There was also preliminary evidence for a reduction of hunger after neurofeedback and an association between down-regulation success and the degree of hunger reduction. Decreasing neural cue responses by motivational neurofeedback may provide a useful extension of existing behavioral methods that aim to modulate cue reactivity. Our pilot findings indicate that reduction of neural cue reactivity is not achieved by top-down regulation but arises in a bottom-up manner, possibly through implicit operant shaping of target area activity.