electrical simulation

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Zap! You’re Better at Math! Brain Stimulation May Improve Skills

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A small study published online today in the journal Current Biology reports that non-invasive electrical stimulation of the right side of 15 healthy adults’ brains made them better at math tasks — and the effect was still there six months later.

Researchers have shown in previous studies that non-invasive stimulation — magnetic, rather than electrical — can make a subject’s performance in math worse. But this is the first time, the study’s authors say, that it has been shown that non-invasive stimulation “can also enhance numerical abilities with remarkable longevity.”

They speculate that eventually, brain stimulation could help the 20 percent of the population with “numerical disabilities,” and the 6.5% of the population so bad with numbers that they even get a diagnosis, “developmental dyscalculia.” I may joke about being somewhat “innumerate” myself sometimes, but it’s not funny at all to be unable to count your change or run a checkbook.

Before we get into the study’s details, let’s have the huge grain of salt that is clearly called for. Msn.com reports here:

One American researcher said the findings were encouraging, but a lot more study is needed.

“Like many good studies, it opens a raft of fertile questions, including ‘Will this work in children?’ and ‘Is it safe to use in children?'” said Dr. Edwin M. Robertson, associate director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.

“It is certainly possible that undergoing this procedure will affect brain function in children and so cause either neurological or psychiatric problems in the future, and so good follow-up studies are required to examine this issue,” said Robertson, who is also an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. “The concern is greater for children whose brains are still developing, as opposed to the adult population of volunteers who took part in the current study.”

In other words, no, kids should not yet get some juice to the head before the SATs, and accountants need not order their zap-helmets yet.
Back to the study: According to the study’s press release — Continue reading