Brain-trainer Neurocore can’t support clinical claims, Board says
The rising popularity of biofeedback technologies is a manifestation of our culture’s infatuation with personal tracking and measurement.
In a biofeedback session, sensors measure your body’s responses to situations or stimuli – brain activity, breathing, heart rate and temperature – providing real-time feedback. In response to this feedback, you might adjust your mindset, your environment or your behavior, thereby testing different ways to gain mastery over your previously automatic responses.
Neurofeedback – a subgenre, as it were, of biofeedback – provides feedback on brain waves, purportedly helping subjects understand and regulate their own brain function. Neurofeedback has been promoted as an especially effective method for treating behavioral issues like ADHD, especially by companies like Neurocore. Neurocore promises to “analyze the information your brain gives us to develop a personalized training program that may improve your brain for a better life.” The company claims to treat a number of disorders, including ADHD, anxiety, depression, migraines, sleep issues and stress.
The Jury’s Out … No, It’s In …
Unfortunately for Neurocore, some of the company’s advertising claims caught the attention of the National Advertising Division (NAD). Back in August 2017, NAD called Neurocore out, saying that the evidence furnished by the company failed to substantiate its “strong health-related advertising claims” including boasts about quantified outcomes – for example, “90% report fewer or less frequent Anxiety symptoms” or “78% achieve non-clinical status.”
Neurocore appealed NAD’s decision to the National Advertising Review Board (NARB or the Board).
NARB seemed to take a somewhat softer line, acknowledging that “there was evidence in the record that supported the potential efficacy of neurofeedback and biofeedback in treating a variety of disorders.” However, the Board determined that the third-party clinical studies on which Neurocore relied have produced inconsistent results, and noted that widely varying testing protocols rendered this evidence insufficient support for Neurocore’s claims.
There isn’t enough room here to delve into the science of Neurocore’s assessment methods, but NARB’s opinion about how it interpreted its conclusions for its audience was clear enough. Neurocore claimed that its therapies produced a “clinically important” reduction of symptoms; NARB determined that this claim “reasonably conveys” the notion that there was a solid clinical determination in the first place. Similarly, according to NARB, Neurocore’s claims that its patients “no longer met symptomatic thresholds for a disorder” painted a picture that a clinically verified cure had occurred. The evidence presented, however, was not sufficient to support these strong health-related claims.
NARB recommended that Neurocore discontinue the claims, noting that it would allow the company to discuss its assessments in its marketing materials – as long as it did so in a “truthful and non-misleading” manner. The Board also disputed a number of non-quantified claims made by Neurocore and recommended that testimonials claiming that clients had a reduced need for medication be removed from various channels. Neurocore agreed to comply with NARB’s recommendations.
This decision demonstrates that health and safety claims continue to be a focus of NAD’s attention. Advertisers who make these types of claims should ensure that the evidence upon which they rely is a good fit for the claims they intend to make.