A Small Shock To The System May Help Brain With Math | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

A Small Shock To The System May Help Brain With Math

Stimulating the brain with a very small electrical current through the forehead could boost a student's ability to learn and remember basic mathematics, a provocative experiment suggets.

The work, published online Thursday by the journal Current Biology, could help those who struggle with mental arithmetic. But the study was small and the long-term effect wasn't profound.

The study tested something called transcranial random noise stimulation, a technique that sends a tiny current to the brain.

The current, generated by a small electronic device, is delivered through two electrodes attached to the temple. The electricity seems to affect the brain's neurons, which themselves use electrical signals to communicate with each other.

The results are preliminary, and alpha parents seeking an edge for their children shouldn't risk electrocution. "Do not try this at home," says Jackie Thompson, a psychologist at the University of Oxford in the U.K.

Some studies suggest that up to 1 in 5 of us has difficulty learning basic math, according to Thompson. Thompson and her colleagues thought that very slight electrical stimulation could help. Electrical stimulation has sometimes been shown to boost basic cognitive skills, Thompson says.

To find out if it could help with more complex brain functions, the team tried mathematics. They took 25 students and asked them to memorize a series of made-up mathematical equations. For example, 4 # 12 = 17. The idea was to test their ability to memorize sums that they hadn't seen before.

All the students had two electrodes stuck to their foreheads, but only half received the tiny electrical signal. The signal was too small to be felt, and even the researchers conducting the tests didn't know who had received a signal and who hadn't.

When they went back and checked, they found that those who had received the stimulation appeared to memorize their sums faster and better than those who hadn't. Moreover, the effect seemed to last for six months after the stimulation. But it wasn't as strong.

Researchers aren't quite sure how it works, but co-author author Thompson says that the electrical signal may get brain cells synchronized: "Kind of like if you have eight rowers in a boat, if they're all rowing together they go faster," she says.

Researchers hope that their new technique could eventually be developed into a tool to help those with learning disabilities, or anyone who finds they are severely math challenged. But Thompson says that more research is needed to see what method of stimulation works best.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

A Puzzle With Ch-Ch-Changes

Every answer is a word starting with "ch," and your clue will be an anagram of the word.
NPR

What If The World Cup Were Awarded For Saving Trees And Drinking Soda?

We thought you'd get a kick out of seeing how the four teams in the final World Cup matches stack up in global health and development.
NPR

What Will Become Of Obama's Request For Immigration Relief Funds?

NPR's Arun Rath talks to political correspondent Mara Liasson about the chances of a political agreement over how to handle the migration of thousands of Central American children.
NPR

Looking For Free Sperm, Women May Turn To Online Forums

Bypassing commercial sperm banks, thousands are logging on to websites where women can connect with men at no cost. Anecdotes abound, but the scope of the unregulated activity is unclear.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.