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Medicine Science

Temporary Brain Changes Lead to Accelerated Learning 140

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-know-kung-fu dept.
An anonymous reader writes "In an advance that could help the treatment of learning impairments, strokes, tinnitus and chronic pain, UT Dallas researchers have found that stimulating nerves in the brain accelerates learning in laboratory tests. When the juice was turned off, researchers monitoring brain activity in rats found that brain responses eventually returned to their pre-stimulation state — but the animals kept the ability to perform their newly learned tasks."
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Temporary Brain Changes Lead to Accelerated Learning

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  • by commlinx (1068272) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @10:53PM (#35814358) Journal
    This is the reason I never leave home without a balloon attached to my tin foil hat.
  • What could possibly go wrong with accellerating brain function in rats.

    I for one welcome our new super intelligent rat overlords.

    • Re:Heh. (Score:5, Funny)

      by ArcherB (796902) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @11:00PM (#35814422) Journal

      What could possibly go wrong with accellerating brain function in rats.

      I for one welcome our new super intelligent rat overlords.

      Don't worry, it may not have accelerated brain function. It was probably just the rats saying, "Holy F*CK! I better learn this trick so the guy in white coat can stop shocking the sh*t out of my skull!"

      • by RockoTDF (1042780)
        If the rat is being punished, it would probably learn to not do the task. Also, there are no pain receptors in the brain. (I know you are probably making a joke, if so a good one, but I still feel the need to point this out)
        • by Anonymous Coward

          [Funny Joke]

          (I know you are probably making a joke, if so a good one, but I still feel the need to point this out)

          Emphasis mine. The ability of joke perception among slashdotters is stunning. Tinfoil hats off!

    • What could possibly go wrong with accellerating brain function in rats.

      Nothing at all. They become famous [character-shop.com]

    • Re:Heh. (Score:5, Funny)

      by WonderingAround (2007742) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @11:16PM (#35814496) Journal
      Life would be much simpler if we all had to literally run through mazes and be punished or rewarded by soulless overlords, rather than just figuratively.
      • Life would be much simpler if we all had to literally run through mazes and be punished or rewarded by soulless overlords, rather than just figuratively.

        You obviously haven't seen the cubicle farm at my office.

      • Life would be much simpler if we all had to literally run through mazes and be punished or rewarded by soulless overlords, rather than just figuratively.

        Eureka! I think you've just discovered the ?????? step!

    • Not a thing [wikipedia.org] Unless you happen to be a mouse named Mr. Frisby. It didn't work out so well for him.

    • Sucks to be in pest-control, though I predict a golden age for the cheese-maker.
    • They are already here....
      We call the Politicians

    • by badran (973386)

      I guess Brain was successful this time around.

      • The 24-hour deadline has passed, yet there has been no message from Earth! It is most curious. Perhaps I was too lenient.
    • by EdZ (755139)
      The question is, was it a BIG RAT?
    • by Genrou (600910)

      What could possibly go wrong with accellerating brain function in rats.

      I for one welcome our new super intelligent rat overlords.

      Don't worry. Rats are already the most intelligent species on Earth. Followed by dolphins, and then humans.

  • Process (Score:3, Funny)

    by Master Moose (1243274) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @10:55PM (#35814382) Homepage

    Normal existence:
    1. Be presented with a new non compulsory task
    2. Learn at your own leisure

    Lab Existence:
    1. Be presented with a new task
    2. Have brain zapped repeatedly
    3. Learn task faster to alleviate zapping

    • Office Existence:

      1. Be presented with new task

      2. Have worker harassed repeatedly

      3. Fill spreadsheet faster to alleviate harassing

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I know kung fu.
    • One step closer to "I know kung fu."

      Sadly, still millions of steps to being in any sort of physical condition to use it.

      • by Culture20 (968837) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @01:28AM (#35814958)

        One step closer to "I know kung fu."

        Sadly, still millions of steps to being in any sort of physical condition to use it.

        "I know sumo?"

      • by mijelh (1111411)
        All components of fitness (Strength, Power, Agility, Balance, etc.) are highly dependent on the nervous system's training (with the possible exception of flexibility). For instance, say you are totally untrained, go to the gym one day and make 15 press ups. Next week most likely you'll be able to complete 22 or 25. Your muscles didn't change in one week, what happened is that you "learned" how to make press ups; your muscle's cells are more coordinated, and therefore achieve a higher output

        I am not into k
  • I know Kung Fu.
  • by mr100percent (57156) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @10:59PM (#35814416) Homepage Journal

    Sounds similiar to the "breakthrough procedure" performed in the classic Flowers for Algernon, when they made the main character a genius for a short amount of time.

  • This is rather reminding me of the book, "Flowers for Algernon". It didn't end very well.
    • This is rather reminding me of the book, "Flowers for Algernon". It didn't end very well.

      I would disagree. The alternative was a life of drudgery with enough intelligence to understant that it could be better, but not enough intelligence to attain it.

      Give me the "breakthrough procedure" anytime.

  • by troff (529250) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @11:08PM (#35814450) Homepage Journal

    ... seem to be missing the parts where it says that the (yes, electrical) stimulation is stimulating neurotransmitters; and that any actual pain-effect is being countered by anaesthesia.

    And I'm amazed that, all these comments in, we get "I for one welcome our super-intelligent rat overlords" but haven't yet got a "where do I sign up?". Man, when we were back in undergrad before USB was invented(*), we all wanted RS232 sockets near the bases of our skulls.

    (*): Yes. You can all get off my lawn.

    • Agree 100%. When I see all these things coming out about increased capabilities and better prosthetics and computer/brain interfaces, it makes me so excited. I mean, a lot of this tech is at the place where, in 10-15 years it's going to be BETTER than what we have now. Now, I might not go out and replace ALL my parts... but better eyes and better ears, better memory and learning capabilities... those are all things that I wouldn't even have to think about.
    • I'm waiting to see a Memory Helmet being sold to me on late night infomercials
    • by Ja'Achan (827610)
      Did you have internet full of ads and viruses back then? These days, people tend to be a little more cautious to what 'apps' they give direct write access on their brain to.
      • by troff (529250)

        Surely you don't run "apps" as root, do you?

        • Sorry, my brain isn't a multi user OS, good news for schizophrenics though
          • by troff (529250)

            a) You mean "multiple personality disorder", not schizophrenia. JFWI.

            b) For your sake, I hope it is. Otherwise, the minute you start trying to chew gum, your heart and lungs are going to seize up.

            • You don't need multiple users to run 'Terminate and stay resident' programs, you don't even need a true multitasking OS for that, even MS DOS could do that.
              • by troff (529250)

                And there's a reason MS-DOS is hardly used even in electrical engineering labs anymore (although, when I was studying electrical engineering around '93 we DID have a CP/M machine).

                You neglect to mention that TSRs (which were fun to code once you got the hang of interrupts) still ran in Real Mode, consumed precious Base Memory, left memory unprotected and were all DEPRECATED in FAVOUR of multitasking operating systems.

                You go ahead and run your autonomic biological processes over DOS. I'll just leave a proces

                • Newsflash, human bodies fail more frequently then Windows ME crashes
                  • by troff (529250)

                    Reality check: there are more bodies than ME installations; the bodies keep going (or at least supporting the brain) in all but the most severe of crashes; the bodies have self-repair mechanisms.

                    I'd also like to think I can stay alive long enough to get on the Kurzweil boat.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      It seems like there is an aversion to this sort of thing in the west. In Japan you can buy various study aids including bottled oxygen, so I suspect that sooner or later they will start doing electro-stimulation devices too.

      Well, okay, to be fair we use caffeine, but it does not seem to be marketed as a study aid.

      • by smelch (1988698)
        Every sitcom in the 90s had that episode where somebody took some pills to study/stay awake/get more done and ended up with terrible consequences.
      • by troff (529250)

        Disturbingly true. The only exception I can think of round my way is that they used to sell 1.25L bottles of Jolt with different labelling for "Trucker's Pack", "Student's Pack", etc..

        Various good-for-the-brain vitamins and supplements by the same companies who make muscle-building compounds like Musashi used to sell them. For about six months before they mysteriously vanished from the catalogues and shelves.

    • ... seem to be missing the parts where it says that the (yes, electrical) stimulation is stimulating neurotransmitters; and that any actual pain-effect is being countered by anaesthesia.

      And I'm amazed that, all these comments in, we get "I for one welcome our super-intelligent rat overlords" but haven't yet got a "where do I sign up?". Man, when we were back in undergrad before USB was invented(*), we all wanted RS232 sockets near the bases of our skulls.

      Oh, I fully agree. I get all excited too, until I realize that there's no way in bloody hell I will be able to afford these things like the accelerated learning zappage stuff.

  • I can finally learn to get water from a dropper and depress a lever to release seeds and nuts. These are skills I never learned because I was off sick from school that day and my brain refused to allow me to develop them. Hooray for science! But Doctor, will I be able to play the piano after the brain simulation treatment? Yes! That's great I've never been able to play the piano before. etc.
  • Flowers for Algernon, anyone?

    Remember how well t
  • by russotto (537200) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @11:28PM (#35814546) Journal

    It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion,
    It is by the beans of Java that thoughts acquire speed,
    The hands acquire shaking, the shaking becomes a warning,
    It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.

    (stolen from someone who stole it from someone on Usenet)

    • by troff (529250)

      a) See post above, "Those who haven't read TFA...". It already IS drugs.

      b) Caffeine doesn't work forever. It works partially by blocking adenosine receptors (which stops you getting sleepy-bye-bye). The brain responds by growing more adenosine receptors and the sleepy creeps in anyway.

      c) Increasing doses of caffeine does more damage to more bits of you anyway.

      I say this with approximately 433mg of caffeine in my bloodstream right this minute (according to the caffeine-tracking spreadsheet I maintain). So: a

      • by xtracto (837672)

        Piracetam is another option... or any of the long list of nootropics.

        • by troff (529250)

          Yeah; but I try pricing it every few years. Especially since I got a mortgage, the price has stayed out of reach.

          As well as its general ongoing expense, Piracetam requires an "attack dose", a large "kickstarter". I estimated, last time I looked at this, the first couple of weeks' supply would be about $400.

          Like I said: mortgage. I'm still trying to save up for this year's FSF, Humanity+, Linux Foundation memberships.

          On the other hand, I did read somewhere that a large (but keep it non-fatal) amount of caffe

          • by xtracto (837672)

            Interesting... I have got 100 tablets of 800mg each for about 10 Euro... ( docsimon.com / article /piracetam-al-tbl-100x-800mg ). That doesn't seem expensive to me.

            • by troff (529250)
              Huh. Very clearly, I need to do a re-pricing. The last time was several years ago.

              Of course, the other problem is that I'm in Australia. The pharmacies here just don't stock it. Bad enough I'd have to import it, but a few years ago Piracetam was put on our Prescribed list.

              I'd have to convince a doctor to put me on a prescription for it. Seeing as I'm already diabetic and have slightly high blood pressure, it's not looking great.
  • Sounds like Intel SpeedStep(TM) for humans!
  • by Coward Anonymous (110649) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @11:47PM (#35814620)

    The study is intriguing and the experiment is commendable.
    The theory is a bit odd. At the end they detail a theory that presupposes that there is some network in the brain that represents the activity being learned and that it is whittled down from a larger initial chunk of neurons.
    A simpler mechanism would be that for Hebbian learning to be able to do its magic you need some random neurons firing. Some of the randomly fired neurons will fire at the times corresponding to when they would fire as part of the network (engram) to be formed and so through Hebbian learning they will soon fire together on purpose and not just by chance.
    Overstimulating the brain increases the number of neurons firing at any given moment and thus increases the number of neurons available to learn the task at hand.

    • I was looking for that. I thought it sounded familiar.

      Wasn't there another one with magnetic fields as well?

  • by MrQuacker (1938262) on Wednesday April 13, 2011 @11:58PM (#35814664)
    I shouldn't stop hitting myself?
  • Was the rat's name Algernon?
  • by holophrastic (221104) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @12:40AM (#35814814)

    If you do that, if you change the state of the brain for advanced learning, the human brain -- indeed probably most animal brains -- adapt in one very predictable manner. They become excellent learners in the new state, and stop learning entirely in the old state.

    Which means you'll learn great in the classroom, and you'll learn absolutely nothing from normal experiences -- when you're off the juice.

    Which is crazy dangerous, since it'll basically erase the expertise part of experience.

    Again, and as usual, this is a great idea for immediate safety-related stuff. Teach CPR this way, train soldiers this way. But normal learning is a different animal. Slower learning isn't usually a lack of learning skill -- it's often a stubborness to stick with existing knowledge, and that is most often a very good thing. You don't want to lose that in general.

    • by LS (57954)

      They become excellent learners in the new state, and stop learning entirely in the old state.

      Which means you'll learn great in the classroom, and you'll learn absolutely nothing from normal experiences -- when you're off the juice.

      Sounds like coffee to me. I'm not joking.

      I believe the only reason coffee isn't outlawed is because it allows you to borrow energy from your personal life and input it into your work life.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        except it doesn't. In fact, you're brain adjusts and you return to normal state.

        So if you drink a cup a day, after 2 weeks, you are getting NOTHING from the caffeine.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Except n this case, that's not happening.

      "You don't want to lose that in general."
      why?

      • innovation, creativity, safety, loyalty, consistency; they all come from stubborness -- doing the opposite of what you're told. That's one.

        But I've got better. Grab a grade-four text book. Look through it and tell me how much of it is just incorrect. You'll find that 90% of it is just plain wrong. And the only reason you won't find the other 10% is because you're not experienced enough to know that it's wrong too. The vast majority of what you're taught in school is just dead wrong. And I don't mean

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This coupled with smarter rats [slashdot.org] - they'll be unstoppable!!

  • I would imagine... as long as the brain you are replacing yours with comes from someone smarter than you, it should learn faster.

    Another probable outcome not mentioned in the article as tested was the body that received the changed out brain probably lost all the advanced things learned previously.

  • Paywall to download, but here is the original publication. At my work, we have a site subscription to many journals including this one. There may be a free source out there but I couldn't find it. http://download.cell.com/neuron/pdf/PIIS0896627311001607.pdf [cell.com]
  • by ae1294 (1547521) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @01:57AM (#35815004) Journal

    Now I can finally read and understand all those "Learn programming in 24 hours" books I've purchased over the years...

  • Now this is what I''ve been complaining about guys! Research dollars going to cover ground that's already been mapped.
    This has been discovered over and over. My personal favorite however is the independent research conducted by the common man, flipping ALL the switches in a few LSD sessions while incorporating study of ANY subject during the months of experimentation. Results are the same as the rat/electricity but with obvious benefits of not being shocked and having a whale of a good time.( having a good

  • The name of this drug wouldn't by chance be NZT http://www.comingsoon.net/news/movienews.php?id=72274 [comingsoon.net]
  • "In an advance that could help the treatment of learning impairments, strokes, tinnitus and chronic pain [...]"

    It *could* help those things, but more likely it will be used by college kids cramming the night before finals after fucking off all semester. At least, that's what I would do.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Which is a good thing. IN the reported case, the mice retained the knowledge. SO in your example the only thing that would changes is that cramming would be retained for long term.

      Which how much more you could learn in 4 years if you could know a semesters worth of subject in a week?

  • They've laid the groundwork for the Intersect!
  • How about help everyone? I would love to put on a hat that stimulate my brain so I could learn faster. Who wouldn't thins help?
    Maybe we could do a year of college in 4 months.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp

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