Behaviourism or Placebo? Biofeedback as applied stress management.

Biofeedback is a process in which an individual can learn to change their own physiological responses from their heart rate, muscle activity and even the secretion of gastric fluids.  How does it work? An individual is connected to a physiological measure such as a heart rate monitor, which gives a reading of 75bpm.  Using techniques such as deep breathing the individual can alter their physiological state in this case the deep breathing will cause a physiological response of a relaxation in the body, which in turn allows the body to slow down, which in turn reduces the heart rate down to 68 in our example. The individual has been now using feedback on their own biological physiology, and changed it – hence Biofeedback.

Biofeedback_EN

This process has many positives such as quick stress reduction, anyone can do it  may even remove the need for medication or certainly reduce the frequency. Psychologically the biofeedback process is considered to be from a Behaviourist principle as we relearn a response from a stimulus.

A triumph for behaviourism….however what if there is a cognitive element to the process or the fact that you think you are having some form of intervention relaxes you which in turn reduces your heart rate and produces the same result in essence a Placebo?

Budynski compared groups receiving  real feedback data against those who were given a false reading (pseudo-feedback) to measure if there was a placebo effect occurring,  Budynski concluded not and that biofeedback specifically for tension/stress headaches is an effective method of management.

+ Usefulness – the study is highly useful as it suggests that using both relaxation training and biofeedback together is an effective way of managing stress.

+ Validity – the use of the pseudo-biofeedback condition increases the validity of the study because we can see that effect observed in the real condition was not due to the placebo effect and was due to the manipulation.

Small sample – the sample is both small and ethnocentric meaning generalising the results is difficult. Furthermore, the researchers only studied tension headaches and did not consider other medical ailments.

Validity – the study was only a snapshot and therefore, we cannot see if the results of the study stick or if the participants would require consistent treatment.  There was a follow -up study however, only 4 respondents took part – it did yield seemingly long term implications to the treatment.

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