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Inside the brain school /newsinteractives/features/brain-school-study-indigenous-biocybernaut-james-hardt

All of it was the brainchild of 79-year-old American psychologist Dr. James Hardt, whose neurofeedback program has been endorsed by self-help guru Tony Robbins and featured on CNN’s Larry King Live. Hardt says brain school can make participants smarter and happier. He says it can also allow them to levitate, walk on water and visit angels.

The study focused on four schools in Prince Albert with high populations of Indigenous students. According to Hardt, 60 children aged 12 to 15 participated, along with one parent or guardian each.

Writing in the Advances Journal in the spring of 2013, just as the Prince Albert study was being proposed, Hardt said “the schools up there have up to 85 per cent Aboriginal students and many teachers are Aboriginal so it would be a really good case study; a lot of drugs, a lot of absenteeism.”

For Ian Mosby, a medical historian from Toronto Metropolitan University with expertise in Canada’s mistreatment of Indigenous people through clinical research, that approval was "shocking."

“The entire project was very weird,” said Mosby. “The roadblocks were not put in place — the basic safety roadblocks.”

He said that’s especially surprising given the study was largely focused on Indigenous kids, "who have already in the past been exploited through medical experimentation and whose communities are regularly exploited economically and politically.”

“To expose a child to that process is abuse, in my eyes,” said Amanda LaVallee, an assistant professor of social work from the University of Victoria who went through the Biocybernaut training herself.


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  • I don't know about it directly causing harm to anyone -- I feel like the article author is kind of playing that bit up. You're sitting in a dark room listening to an audio representation of your brain waves. And neurofeedback as a therapy is hardly new -- it was trendy in the late '70s or so, and you can buy equipment yourself -- but it sounds like it's probably a waste of time and funds, and it's just encouraging snake oil salesmen if they're making theraputic promises about it.

    Sounds like there's some well-meaning but maybe-not-too-sharp wealthy Canuck who offered to fund it, so it's probably not state funds.

    According to Hardt, that $6-million scholarship program was funded by Alberta billionaire and philanthropist Allan Markin, a former oil executive and part-owner of the Calgary Flames.

    Hardt asked Markin if he would also be willing to fund the Prince Albert study. In an email to CBC from his lawyer, Markin confirmed that he agreed to pay for all costs — flights, food, lodging and the fee for the week-long Biocybernaut program. Hardt told CBC the fee was $15,000 a week per participant.

    Like, I will bet that now this neurofeedback guy is gonna try and use this to try and sell other people on it ("the Canadian school system thinks it's valuable, so you should buy it too!").

    Neurofeedback is a technology that enables you to hear or view your own brainwaves in real time. Practitioners like Hardt say it can help people detect and fix faulty thought patterns. Hardt’s innovation is to do an intense amount of training in a brief burst of time — just one week. He says it provides the equivalent of 21 to 40 years of zen meditation.

    "Years of zen meditation" is certainly an unusual unit.

    • I think the clumsily forcing children to relive their trauma in an unwelcoming environment with strangers without any preparation for how that might go wrong is the part that seems the most harmful.

      Regardless though, any time a scientific study is being performed on an at risk population there are a set of safeguards and guardrails that need to be put in place to ensure safety and ethics. Children of First Nations families who have experienced trauma are one of the most vulnerable groups I can possibly think of, who don’t have the same ability to advocate for themselves or the same safety nets as others.

      You’re correct that this seems to have done less harm than many of the egregious examples of experiments or acts done to native peoples on colonized land, but the fact is that in the 21st century every group, regulatory body, ethics review board, and government agency that was involved in this seemed to shrug and leave these kids in the hands of a lunatic who thought he could teach them to fly or talk to angels by altering brainwaves

      Sure it could have been worse and this doctor could have caused more harm than he did, but honestly the fact that he was given the access, funding, and opportunities he was is a resounding indictment of the system as a whole regardless of what he did with them