Wilkes University launched its new NeuroTraining and Research Center — the only one of its kind in the region — with a grand opening ceremony and open house on Jan. 28. The center uses the latest scientific research about how the brain functions to teach techniques that help individuals to improve focus, attention and psychological well-being.
The center also provides research and internship opportunities for Wilkes students studying psychology and neuroscience using state-of-the-art equipment. Located in Suite 214 of Breiseth Hall, the center is an oasis of calm with soft lights, comfortable furniture and tasteful art.
In establishing the center, Wilkes is on the cutting edge of a scientific concept that has grown in the last decade. While the idea of biofeedback – training bodily processes such as heart rate and muscle tension to improve physical well-being – neurofeedback is a newer technique used by psychologists and in the medical field.
“Neurofeedback has really taken off in the last decade,” said Ed Schicatano, associate professor of psychology who co-directs the Center with Robert Bohlander, professor of psychology. “What we’re talking about is training the brain.”
“It’s use is coming into it’s own,” Bohlander added. “For example, The American Academy of Pediatrics has endorsed it as a treatment for attention deficit disorder.”
University President Patrick F. Leahy says that the new center is in keeping with Wilkes’ goals of becoming one of the nation’s premier small universities.
“We are committed to offering the resources of a large University in the setting of a small liberal arts college. This center embodies that ideal,” Leahy said.
Although Wilkes’ center doesn’t offer treatment for diagnosed conditions, its training techniques can benefit anyone seeking to improve focus, reduce stress and increase calmness. For example, athletes, performing artists and students suffering from test anxiety are among those who can benefit from techniques taught at the center. It provides neurotraining at no cost to students, faculty and staff of Wilkes University. The center is not open to the public, but prospective students interested in majoring in neuroscience or psychology can request a personal tour when visiting the University.
The center is unique among colleges and universities, Schicatano says. While the techniques used at the center may be employed at some other institutions in research or to help athletes perform better, Wilkes is unusual in offering a dedicated center with services available for free to faculty, staff and students.
Schicatano points to the concept called neuroplasticity to explain how the center helps. “Neuroplasticity has become a buzzword. It refers to the ability to change the brain.”
The new center will offer services that do just that. A variety of techniques are used. In one room focusing on neurofeedback, subjects’ heads are wired with electrodes to monitor brain waves. As the subject learns to increase certain brain waves, he will be rewarded with videos or a game when he increases the number produced. In another room, participants don a mask and headphones to use a process called audio-visual entrainment. It employs flashing lights and sounds to stimulate brain waves that induce calm and increase focus. Sessions range from 15 minutes to as long as 25 minutes, depending on the training chosen.