Researchers say that by applying electrical current to the brain they can enhance mathematical performance for up to 6 months - and there is no impact on other cognitive functions.
Aside from being a new way for kids to cheat on their SATs, the work may lead to treatments for the percentage of the population with moderate to severe numerical disabilities like dyscalculia ('math dyslexia') and for those who lose their skill with numbers as a result of stroke or degenerative disease.
The researchers used a method of brain stimulation known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). TDCS is a noninvasive technique in which a weak current is applied to the brain constantly over time to enhance or reduce the activity of neurons and it has gotten attention in the last decade for its potential to improve various functions in people with neurological deficits, like those who have suffered a stroke.
In the new study, the researchers applied tDCS specifically to the parietal lobe, a portion of the brain that is crucial for numerical understanding. The study participants had normal mathematical abilities but were asked to learn a series of artificial numbers—symbols that they had never seen before that they were told represented numbers—while they received the noninvasive brain stimulation.
The researchers then tested participants' ability to automatically process the relationship of those artificial numbers to one another and to map them correctly in space using standard testing methods for numerical competence.
The results of the tests showed that the brain stimulation improved study participants' ability to learn the new numbers. and that those improvements lasted 6 months post training.
"I am certainly not advising people to go around giving themselves electric shocks, but we are extremely excited by the potential of our findings," said Roi Cohen Kadosh of the University of Oxford. "We've shown before that we can temporarily induce dyscalculia [with another method of brain stimulation], and now it seems we might also be able to make someone better at maths. Electrical stimulation will most likely not turn you into Albert Einstein, but if we're successful, it might be able to help some people to cope better with maths."
Now that their results say tDCS treatment can improve number processing in people with normal mathematical ability, the researchers plan to test its use in those with severe numerical disabilities.
If it works, that could have important consequences, Cohen Kadosh said, as people with severe numerical disabilities often cannot manage basic tasks like understanding food labels or counting change in a supermarket. Poor numerical ability has also been linked to unemployment and low income, depression, low self-esteem, and other problems, he said.
Citation: Roi Cohen Kadosh, Sonja Soskic, Teresa Iuculano, Ryota Kanai, and Vincent Walsh, 'Modulating Neuronal Activity Produces Specific and Long-Lasting Changes in Numerical Competence', Current Biology November 4 2010 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.10.007
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Science Left Behind: The Anti-Vaccine Update Update
- Moderate Pot Use By Adolescents Doesn't Hurt IQ
- What Americans Fear Most Isn't Ebola Or Terrorism, It's...
- Finding Fracking Fluids In The Environment
- Ashes And Vegetables: The Diet Of Roman Gladiators Was Rather Poor
- Manly Men And Feminine Women Are Not Evolutionary Mandates - They Are Urban Ones
- Dopamine Receptor Agonist Drugs Linked To Gambling And Hypersexuality
- "Have you seen posts made by some people who have other reasons for being homophobic than religion..."
- "Great to see the other side of the story come out. There is usually so much fuss about some molecule..."
- "As someone who is very interested in longevity and pushing healthy eating with less sugars, this..."
- "While people extoll the fact that 2014 was a hot year it is not anywhere near where they said it..."
- "As a Cooley Kid of the early 70's, and involved in SEQ and the various projects, your article is..."
- An end to fat shaming? The 50 year DNA mystery of metabolic dysfunction may soon be solved
- Egg freezing: a smart career move?
- Despite resistance, China will dominate future of GMOs
- Should Science and Nature run advertorial by wacky Dr. Bronner’s that misleads on GMOs?
- Jack the Ripper’s identity remains a mystery after error in DNA analysis revealed
- Seed patent primer: Is the use of GMOs preventing farmers from reusing their seeds?
- Studies must be carried out to determine whether exercise slows the onset of type 1 diabetes in children and adults
- Clot dissolver tPA's tardy twin could aid in stroke recovery
- NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test
- UMD researchers formulate cyber protection for supply chains
- NASA sees Himalayan snow from Cyclone Hudhud's remnants