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Neuroscientific insights into executive functions

From brain waves to behavioral improvements through neurofeedback
PhD ceremony:Ms D. (Diede) Smit
When:May 30, 2024
Supervisors:prof. dr. O.M. (Oliver) Tucha, dr. J. (Janneke) Koerts
Co-supervisor:S. (Stefanie) Enriquez Geppert, Dr
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences
Neuroscientific insights into executive functions

This PhD research focuses on executive functions; cognitive processes crucial for independent, adaptive and goal-directed behavior in everyday life. Executive functions depend on a superordinate brain network, involving different parts of the cortex. The synchronization of neural oscillations (i.e., brain waves) is a fundamental communication mechanism within such brain networks that enable cognitive processes. For executive functions, theta oscillations (4-8 Hz) are of particular interest because they are generated in response to events that require cognitive control. Specifically, two neurophysiological markers of executive function have been identified that are related to theta oscillations: theta power in the frontal-midline of the cortex and functional theta connectivity in the superordinate network. Despite the crucial importance of efficient underlying neural mechanisms for adequate executive functions in daily life, executive functioning is believed to be the result of a complex dynamic interaction between various biological, psychological, and social factors.

This PhD research investigated (1) the neurophysiological theta markers underlying executive functions in adults who report subjective complaints about their executive functioning, (2) the effects of frontal-midline theta neurofeedback as a neuroscientific intervention for improving executive functions in this group, as well as the overall effectiveness of this neurofeedback protocol in upregulating frontal-midline theta, and (3) psychological predictors of subjective self-reported executive functions.