Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), in which weak electrical currents are applied to the scalp using electrodes, is the first non-invasive way of stimulating the brain that can more than double visual memory performance. In future, Chi says, it might eventually be possible to use tDCS to “develop a ‘thinking cap’ that enhances learning”. Subjects then repeated the experiment 12 times, with one group receiving so-called anodal tDCS (which boosts activity) on their right ATL and cathodal tDCS (which inhibits activity) on their left. A second group received the opposite stimulation and a third group received a placebo treatment, which did not stimulate either side of the brain.
Pubmed Plos One – Temporal Lobe Cortical Electrical Stimulation during the Encoding and Retrieval Phase Reduces False Memories provides details on the stimulation procedure [H/T Space Pirate at Reddit]
A constant current intensity of 2 mA (current density of 0.06 mA/cm2) intensity was applied for approximately 10 minutes (according to the duration of the task – stimulation was ended when the task was completed). Cognitive tasks were initiated 5 minutes after the start of stimulation as it has been shown that 3 minutes of stimulation is the minimum duration of stimulation in order to induce significant after-effects changes in the cortical excitability
Those in the first group more than doubled their scores after receiving tDCS, experiencing a 110 per cent improvement in visual memory.
The left ATL is known to be crucial for context processing, among other things, while the right ATL is associated with visual memory. Chi’s team suggests that inhibiting activity in the left ATL cuts errors in visual memory by reducing the potentially confusing influence that context can have on recognition. This effect, combined with an increase in activity in the right ATL, allows someone to be more aware of the literal details of each pattern. Further studies in which the temporal lobes are stimulated individually may help to distinguish the underlying mechanisms involved.
A previous experiment using the same visual task, but without tDCS, showed that people with autism outperformed non-autistic individuals by roughly the same margin as the improvement seen in this experiment, says Chi.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), the technique has already been shown to boost verbal and motor skills and to improve learning and memory in healthy people – making fully-functioning brains work even better. It is also showing promise as a therapy to cure migraine.
Eric Wassermann, a neurologist and chief of the Brain Stimulation Unit at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), has come closest to creating an inexpensive, painless “thinking cap.” The device runs on electrical currents, known as transcranial direct current stimulation. His studies have shown that tDCS can boost verbal skills in healthy people by as much as 20 percent.
OTHER WORK THAT COULD ENHANCE LEARNING OR PERFORMANCE
Controlled and targeted electrical stimulation, magnetic stimulation, audio stimulus or feedback methods could be used to assist people into getting into optimal performance zones (optimal for learning or various kinds of performance).
… defined the zone, as a special state of consciousness that occurs when the normal amount of shifting that goes on between focusing attention on external cues and focusing on internal cues breaks down. The athlete who enters the zone is focused almost exclusively on the environment with little if any conscious internal processing going on. In contrast, I have suggested that the flow state occurs when the breakdown in shifting is in the opposite direction. This occurs when the performance is primarily cognitive in nature, rather than physical. Flow is an experience that authors, scientists, composers, and artists have. An experience where one loses all sense of time, as opposed to the experience of things happening in slow motion.
There is other research towards using feedback and other means of placing the brain into a mode that is condusive to better learning.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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