Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Origin of EEG Biofeedback for Remediating Misbehavior

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Origin of EEG Biofeedback for Remediating Misbehavior

Article excerpt


In the 1960s, behavior therapy techniques were emerging from the laboratory. These techniques were proving successful in changing a variety of behavioral problems. In the area of psychiatric rehabilitation, Quirk learned to apply Mary Cover Jones' method of desensitization to psychotics despite Wolpe's self-reported inability to make Reciprocal Inhibition Therapy (RIT) work with psychotics. Von Hilsheimer suggested that he monitor stress by Galvanic Skin Resistance (GSR) and Quirk developed a library of lanternslides to substitute for verbal statements in the Wolpe hierarchies of stressful stimuli. He automated this method and named it.

SCARS (Stimulus Conditioned Autonomic Response Suppression). This method was later used in offender rehabilation with correctional populations. This paper reviews this history. Quirk then applied the same methods and Sterman's EEG biofeedback training (increasing SMR at C-3/C-4) in a pilot study of 40 matched pairs of jailed felons at the Ontario Correctional Institute (OCI) near Toronto, Canada; and in a larger pilot study of 110 matched pairs. From 1970 through 1995 Quirk and von Hilsheimer trained 2776 felons at the OCI by this combined method (temperature, GSR and EEG). 15% were rearrested in the 3 years following release. This compares well to the range of re-arrest in studies summarized by Alter et al (1996)--42 % to 78%. This line of research represents an early beginning to the field of applied behavioral neurology and the work has strong implications for behavior analysts treating offenders today.

Keywords: EEG biofeedback, behavior therapy, applied behavioral neurology, desensitization, offender treatment


In the late 1950s, behavior therapy based on operant and respondent conditioning procedures moved out of the laboratory (see Wolpe, 1958) and into the direct treatment of people. Many of the procedures were used to reduce anxiety (e.g., Paul, 1966 or Lang, and Lazovik, 1963). Basic research studies were showing that operant conditioning procedures could be applied without the subject's awareness and could change autonomic responses (Gavalas, 1967). Studies at Harvard Medical showed that operant conditioning could be used through biofeedback technology to change blood flow and blood pressure (Shapiro, Crider, Tursky, 1964; Shapiro & Crider, 1967; Shapiro, Tursky, & Schwartz, 1970; Schwartz, 1973) and studies with post stroke patients, cerebral palsy, spinal injuries showed that biofeedback could restore motor control (Basmajian, 1977; Fernando & Basmajian, 1978; Runck, 1980). This encouraged many in clinical practice to begin to experiment with the idea of directly manipulating brainwave frequencies through operant procedures, which were correlated with behavioral disruption. This research could be seen as the early beginning of work called applied behavioral neuroscience (today referred to as Neurotherapy), as you will see it is a area of research that might be of value to current behavior analysts, especially those working within the prison or criminal justice systems. This paper represents a brief and at times a personal history of this area.


Two of Quirk's colleagues, North and Breen, liked a method of scoring the Bender-Gestalt published in a book by Hutt. However, the Bender figures weren't really adaptable to the Hutt method. So North and Breen created new figures and called the test the Diagnostic Differential Test (DDT). Quirk took a course in administering the DDT and became expert at its interpretation.

One of the neurologists on staff who used Doug as a consultant gave him a list of 10 patients, whose serial EEGs eventually demonstrated epilepsy but who did not have seizures. He was asked what test to use to figure out how to recognize them more reliably than with the EEG. Doug found a file into which he had put the DDT's those individuals' had taken. …

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