Put on Your Thinking Cap!

Published 06/20 2014 04:14PM

Updated 06/20 2014 05:37PM

Forget using caffeine to help you focus on tasks -- imagine stimulating the brain with a jolt of electricity instead. Researchers at Vanderbilt University are using electrical stimulation to speed up the brain and help it learn from mistakes. 

Laura McClenahan, Researcher, Vanderbilt University, isn’t just playing a game. This fitted red cap is actually stimulating her brain.

“It feels like a mild, itching sensation,” McClenahan said.

In a new study published in the journal Neuroscience, researchers at Vanderbilt University say they're proving it’s possible to manipulate our ability to learn by using a mild electrical current.

“So, essentially we can make you learn faster with 20 minutes of non-invasive electrical stimulation,” Robert Reinhart, PhD Candidate, Vanderbilt University, said.

Reinhart says the thinking cap activates the frontal lobe—the part of the brain involved in problem-solving, memory and judgment.

“We’ve found a way to causally up-regulate, increase and boost these brain activities related to monitoring,” Reinhart said.

Not only can you learn faster, but depending on the direction of the current, your mental performance can also be slowed down.

“It’s also systematic and reliable and enough for us to be satisfied with gaining that kind of causal control,” Reinhart explains.

Researchers say the learning effects last about 5 hours.

Electrical current therapy is also being studied for mental health conditions to see if, in the future, the technology could also be used to treat schizophrenia and ADHD.

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