The potential of functional near-infrared spectroscopy-based neurofeedback: a systematic review and recommendations for best practice

Simon H Kohl*, David M A Mehler, Michael Lührs, Robert T Thibault, Kerstin Konrad, Bettina Sorger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Background: The effects of electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)-neurofeedback on brain activation and behaviors have been studied extensively in the past. More recently, researchers have begun to investigate the effects of functional near-infrared spectroscopy-based neurofeedback (fNIRS-neurofeedback). FNIRS is a functional neuroimaging technique based on brain hemodynamics, which is easy to use, portable, inexpensive, and has reduced sensitivity to movement artifacts. Method: We provide the first systematic review and database of fNIRS-neurofeedback studies, synthesizing findings from 22 peer-reviewed studies (including a total of N = 441 participants; 337 healthy, 104 patients). We (1) give a comprehensive overview of how fNIRS-neurofeedback training protocols were implemented, (2) review the online signal-processing methods used, (3) evaluate the quality of studies using pre-set methodological and reporting quality criteria and also present statistical sensitivity/power analyses, (4) investigate the effectiveness of fNIRS-neurofeedback in modulating brain activation, and (5) review its effectiveness in changing behavior in healthy and pathological populations. Results and discussion: (1-2) Published studies are heterogeneous (e.g., neurofeedback targets, investigated populations, applied training protocols, and methods). (3) Large randomized controlled trials are still lacking. In view of the novelty of the field, the quality of the published studies is moderate. We identified room for improvement in reporting important information and statistical power to detect realistic effects. (4) Several studies show that people can regulate hemodynamic signals from cortical brain regions with fNIRS-neurofeedback and (5) these studies indicate the feasibility of modulating motor control and prefrontal brain functioning in healthy participants and ameliorating symptoms in clinical populations (stroke, ADHD, autism, and social anxiety). However, valid conclusions about specificity or potential clinical utility are premature. Conclusion: Due to the advantages of practicability and relatively low cost, fNIRS-neurofeedback might provide a suitable and powerful alternative to EEG and fMRI neurofeedback and has great potential for clinical translation of neurofeedback. Together with more rigorous research and reporting practices, further methodological improvements may lead to a more solid understanding of fNIRS-neurofeedback. Future research will benefit from exploiting the advantages of fNIRS, which offers unique opportunities for neurofeedback research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number594
Number of pages31
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2020


  • real-time data analysis
  • functional near-infrared spectroscopy
  • neurofeedback
  • systematic review
  • clinical translation
  • self-regulation
  • brain-computer interfacing
  • FMRI
  • SHAM


Dive into the research topics of 'The potential of functional near-infrared spectroscopy-based neurofeedback: a systematic review and recommendations for best practice'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this