Book recommendations for brain / arousal / EEG / neurotransmitters / meds?
April 30, 2013 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I would like to get some book recommendations on the following topic: the connection between brain arousal states (am I using that term correctly?) (e.g. sleepy, alert, hyperalert/anxious), EEG states (e.g. theta, alpha, beta), and various neurotransmitters and perhaps even psychotropic medications.

For example -- Wellbutrin increases norepinephrine and that, I am led to understand, gives one more "get up and go" (and, thus, can alleviate "psychomotor retardation" in a depressed person). And then there are SSRIs which (supposedly) increase serotonin in certain synapses/areas of the brain, thereby helping to alleviate the mood state of depression.

Similarly, EEG training can increase the amount of beta waves, thus helping someone with a "sleepy" (theta-dominated) brain have more "drive" and focus, and this type of training is therefore used as a(n alternative) treatment for ADHD. However, stimulant medication also speeds up the brain and allows for greater focus on tasks, thus improving performance. So -- what would the connection be between stimulant medication and increasing beta waves in the brain? Are the brain waves a kind of "phenotype" (evidence, as it were) of the increase in a neurotransmitter like dopamine, also implicated in ADHD?

Similarly, meditation is thought to increase alpha waves (although there is some talk about an increase in gamma waves) and thus relax a person. But benzodiazapines also relax people. So what would a connection be between the brain waves as seen on EEG and the neurotransmitters and the person's subjective state? Is there any established and easily discoverable connection in the scientific literature, or is this just speculation?

What I'm asking for is not the information itself, though. What I'm asking for are references to books (probably preferable to articles, which would be too specific), maybe psychology (?) textbooks? maybe cognitive science textbooks? physiology? I don't know -- that would have (relatively simple, general) information about this sort of thing that I could cite when talking to people (and even thinking about this stuff).

Actually the medication part isn't essential. What is essential to me is some sort of model in a book that would talk about this continuum:

theta=sleepy=poor performance
alpha=relaxed=more alert than theta
low/moderate beta=optimal performance state
high beta=anxious, "wired", poor performance


***what neurotransmitters and regions of the brain might correspond to these?***

The idea would be to have a nice little model to use to "titrate" ones state to tone down anxiety but tone up dopiness, using preferably non-medication methods such as "alert meditation", maybe different kinds of music and other stimuli, and to think about how psychotropic medication falls into the continuum

as in:

***what psychotropic drugs might correlate with getting into "better" states?...

e.g. a person with ADHD might use stimulants to bring them from excessive theta in the front of the head to optimal beta, but too much stimulant can make you TOO anxious and jittery to perform well***

and a person with ADHD might be found to have a deficit in dopamine -- but *where*in the brain? and does that mean that dopamine corresponds in some way to a "theta state" (for which the individual may compensate by overstimulating)(e.g. fidgeting, videogames, etc. which is then potentially corrected by the use of stimulant medication?)

I know I'm bringing in too much here, but is the basic idea clear? That "arousal continuum", and how it relates to performance (like doing homework!) and how one may attempt to "titrate" or "recalibrate" ones arousal state via various methods?

SO -- what type of textbook, and any specific recommendations, that would address these issues in a GENERAL way?

Please don't cite Neurofeedback texts, because I have a whole bunch of them, and the point is that they only are looking at EEG, whereas I want to go to other levels of understanding that, hopefully, would correlate with EEG. Neurofeedback/EEG literature rarely talks about neurotransmitters. They have *separated* the EEG and its states from the *chemical* dimensions of the brain, which they almost always seem to ignore.

Thank you and sorry if I'm all over the place here.
posted by DMelanogaster to Science & Nature (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I am in a doctoral program for psychology and cognitive neuroscience and my main method is EEG. Sorry, EEG, arousal, drugs and neurotransmitters are not related in the tidy way you outlined here at all. Nope.

Yes, EEG coherence at certain frequency ranges you mentioned is associated with certain cognitive states, and overall EEG is a marker of arousal in a really broad sense, which is why it's useful for sleep studies, etc. Yes, things like alpha asymmetry correlate with depression. But be careful in the way you interpret the neurofeedback literature; just "fixing" the coherence pattern doesn't mean you "fixed" the disorder necessarily, because a given pattern of EEG could be caused by an infinite range of possible neural activity and it's impossible to tell if that activity is actually dysfunctional or not only looking at the EEG. Psychiatric disorders are usually complicated, and EEG is very, very crude. Of course some neurofeedback seems to work in the lab in the sense of alleviating measured depression symptoms, etc. So the training must be doing something useful, but the EEG is just a way of tracking the neural changes in real time so we can intervene and get the behavioral changes we want to see in just the right way at the right moment for each individual. The EEG pattern is not itself directly diagnostic. The leap your question seems to want to make is that if focus training and a drug like Adderall give you the same "improvement" in EEG, that must mean they're affecting the brain in the same way? That's almost certainly wrong. Drugs sit in a synapse and modulate neural activity until they are cleared from your body, and may cause longer term changes in cells as well. Training, experience and learning over time (meditation, etc. ) also modulate neurons, but in different ways, and using neurofeedback in combination with this sort of training seems to improve its efficacy. Just because the net result of these changes in the EEG might look the same doesn't mean the underlying changes in the brain are the same, nor does it mean that the individual is necessarily in a "better" cognitive state.

I actually looked and can't find any studies showing a causal relationship between a particular neurotransmitter system and a particular EEG coherence pattern in healthy people. The closest I could find was showing that giving Parkinson's patients L-dopa improves both their abnormal EEG coherence and task performance. However, Parkinson's is not ADHD; we know that the death of a certain population of midbrain dopamine neurons causes Parkinson's symptoms, but casting ADHD as a "deficit in dopamine" along the same lines is false - ADHD patients do not have a confined problem with a single brain region or system in that way. Therefore, unless you know that there is a direct causal relationship between a certain neurotransmitter and a disorder of interest, using EEG as a diagnostic tool is of limited value. Anyone trying to claim that low/high arousal is associated with a single neurotransmitter is oversimplifying or selling something. Anyone claiming EEG patterns and neurotransmitters are linked in a direct way is also oversimplifying or selling something, and anyone claiming that EEG could be used to show "improvement" in a "dopamine deficit" is either wildly misunderstanding a whole body of literature in neuroscience and psychiatry or is pushing serious snake oil.

I would look at some intro neuroscience textbooks to get a better handle on how neurotransmitter systems work, and a better understanding of what EEG is actually measuring, and be cautious interpreting the neurofeedback literature.
posted by slow graffiti at 6:34 PM on April 30, 2013 [7 favorites]

Nthing slow graffiti - I feel a little bit like your question is making some huuuuuge jumps there. You may find Robert Sapolsky's funny and interesting book about stress, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers an interesting, getting-the-toes-wet introduction, not just to stress as the title implies, but also to endocrinology, neurobiology, nervous system interactions etc etc. It's fun, fast, and quite clear.
posted by smoke at 6:47 PM on April 30, 2013

Yeeaaah... I'm in agreement with slow graffiti. I study cognitive neuroscience and memory through EEG, and I can almost guarantee you won't find anything touching on these topics in the mainstream psychology literature. The closest you'll find is computational modeling on the small scale-- that's where you'll find the connection between neurotransmitters/drugs and electrophysiology. (Gyuri Buzsaki is probably still the most notable computational modeler; his book Rhythms of the Brain might be approachable enough for you.) But all of that is on the extreme small scale. You're making/asking for unfounded leaps to the systems level. The only place you'll find people doing that is in the fringe/quacky neurofeedback literature.

I would highly recommend checking out popular science systems neuro books; V.S. Ramachandran is my favorite neuroscience writer. He has a book about consciousness that I haven't read, but you might like.
posted by supercres at 6:52 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Buszaki rhythms of the brain is the classic on brain waves. I'd suggest you start there. He's no pop scientist, he's a well respected researcher.
posted by htid at 9:06 PM on April 30, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you all. This is very helpful. So, a follow-up question, if I may: the EEG people always correlate dominant brain-wave patterns with "state" , e.g. alpha=relaxed, theta=drowsy, etc., and that seems to be pretty "valid" , right?

But it's the neurotransmitter part that is less clear? That, is, just because e.g. Wellbutrin helps a sluggish depressed person less sluggish and less depressed does NOT mean that there will be any predictable change in the EEG of that person who is now on the drug?

I am also very interested in what you, slow graffiti, are doing with EEG in your program. If you would MeMail me that would be great. If you don't want to, I totally get it!

Thank you!!
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:47 AM on May 1, 2013

that seems to be pretty "valid" , right?

Nope. It's more complex than that. There are also individual and developmental differences, and the "waves" change for other reasons other than relaxed/not-relaxed etc. See the book I cited for an overview.
posted by htid at 8:39 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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