Scientists from the US Air Force and Wright State University (WSU) have demonstrated that it is possible to stimulate the brain using electricity in order to improve an individual’s effectiveness in high-pressure situations, particularly when piloting aircraft and remotely-controlling drones.
There was a 30% boost in performance.
The US military has found over the past few decades that during highly stressful military operations whereby people need to multitask and process a huge amount of information at once, there comes to a point whereby human operators of specialized equipment can no longer take on any new information and process it effectively to make good decisions quickly.
The stimulation technique enhanced working memory so that the participants were able to store areas of the screen that had already been observed during the test so that the individuals’ brains could focus purely on the remaining tasks they needed to complete.
The group that had been consistently zapped by the electric current during the test were better at completing tasks relating to communication and following a target, but the technique did not have a big effect on their scores on the monitoring and resource management tasks.
Multitasking has become an integral attribute associated with military operations within the past several decades. As the amount of information that needs to be processed during these high level multitasking environments exceeds the human operators’ capabilities, the information throughput capacity reaches an asymptotic limit. At this point, the human operator can no longer effectively process and respond to the incoming information resulting in a plateau or decline in performance. The objective of the study was to evaluate the efficacy of a non-invasive brain stimulation technique known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied to a scalp location over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (lDLPFC) to improve information processing capabilities during a multitasking environment.
Methods: The study consisted of 20 participants from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (16 male and 4 female) with an average age of 31.1 (SD = 4.5). Participants were randomly assigned into two groups, each consisting of eight males and two females. Group one received 2mA of anodal tDCS and group two received sham tDCS over the lDLPFC on their testing day. Results: The findings indicate that anodal tDCS significantly improves the participants’ information processing capability resulting in improved performance compared to sham tDCS. For example, the multitasking throughput capacity for the sham tDCS group plateaued near 1.0 bits/s at the higher baud input (2.0 bits/s) whereas the anodal tDCS group plateaued near 1.3 bits/s.
Conclusion: The findings provided new evidence that tDCS has the ability to augment and enhance multitasking capability in a human operator. Future research should be conducted to determine the longevity of the enhancement of transcranial direct current stimulation on multitasking performance, which has yet to be accomplished.
SOURCES – Frontiers of Human Neuralscience, IBTimes