Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Math Science

Can Electric Current Make People Better At Math? 112

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-bet-it-can-make-them-worse dept.
cold fjord sends this excerpt from the Wall Street Journal: "In a lab in Oxford University's experimental psychology department, researcher Roi Cohen Kadosh is testing an intriguing treatment: He is sending low-dose electric current through the brains of adults and children as young as 8 to make them better at math. A relatively new brain-stimulation technique called transcranial electrical stimulation may help people learn and improve their understanding of math concepts. The electrodes are placed in a tightly fitted cap and worn around the head. ... The mild current reduces the risk of side effects, which has opened up possibilities about using it, even in individuals without a disorder, as a general cognitive enhancer. Scientists also are investigating its use to treat mood disorders and other conditions. ... Up to 6% of the population is estimated to have a math-learning disability called developmental dyscalculia, similar to dyslexia but with numerals instead of letters. [In an earlier experiment, Kadosh] found that he could temporarily turn off regions of the brain known to be important for cognitive skills. When the parietal lobe of the brain was stimulated using that technique, he found that the basic arithmetic skills of doctoral students who were normally very good with numbers were reduced to a level similar to those with developmental dyscalculia. That led to his next inquiry: If current could turn off regions of the brain making people temporarily math-challenged, could a different type of stimulation improve math performance?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Can Electric Current Make People Better At Math?

Comments Filter:
  • yes (Score:5, Funny)

    by schwit1 (797399) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @07:33PM (#46233639)

    It's called negative feedback. Up the amps.

  • Next step (Score:5, Funny)

    by jxander (2605655) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @07:33PM (#46233643)

    The next logical step, of course, is increasing the voltage whenever someone gets an answer wrong.

    What could possibly go wrong? [wikipedia.org]

    • Re:Next step (Score:4, Informative)

      by cold fjord (826450) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:00PM (#46233885)

      Except this isn't premised on reward and punishment. This is aimed at altering the way the brain processes information, how the brain functions, to make it better able to work with math.

      • Why just limit the testing to one mode? Go for both volts and amps!

      • Whoosh. Also, zap.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        This is aimed at altering the way the brain processes information, how the brain functions, to make it better able to work with math.

        In other words: it's kind of like a variation on ECT/Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy, minus the Convulsions and pain by using low current.

        The objective is still to change the brain's function. Different people may react to it differently. It is not clear if: in the long term it will be safe.

        The method is still a bit crude -- imprecise and primitive: applying rando

  • "Use more honey! Find out what she knows!"
    - John W.

  • maybe, but . . . (Score:5, Insightful)

    by djupedal (584558) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @07:36PM (#46233665)
    'better at math' seems a bit vague. Better at algebra, maybe, but many who suffer from dyscalculia excel at higher math, example string theory. We don't need more individuals that are ok w/algebra, so the value here is more about trying to better understand the brain than about helping people get jobs working the register at a food truck.
    • by paskie (539112)

      Reference needed wrt. "many who suffer from dyscalculia excel at higher math". Not understanding basic numbers and algebra like fractions means that you simply never have much chance to progress to anything higher and interesting. Especially if your first few teachers are incompetent. And without the technical skill and gained routine, it's quite difficult to acquire intuition about how many pieces of higher math work.

      Also, algebra is important for many other areas of science - biology, chemisty, any lab wo

      • I wonder if the growing use of calculators in education is making the problem worse. I know I've read commentary that students have less of a grasp of the numbers these days that in the past would have developed by working the problems by hand. I think that working with slide rules developed a better feel for the numbers. Of course it would probably be cruel and unusual punishment for people to be subjected to slide rules these days.

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          I wonder if the growing use of calculators in education is making the problem worse. I know I've read commentary that students have less of a grasp of the numbers these days that in the past would have developed by working the problems by hand.

          What do numbers have to do with math? :) Once you get into anything moderately advanced actual decimal representations of numbers become less and less important. I doubt I could rattle off the digits of e, but I can marvel that e^(i*pi)=-1.

        • As a child, I spent agonizing hours fighting to do long division and multiplication by hand. More often than not, I ended up with the wrong answer and came to believe that I "wasn't good at math" simply because of mild dyscalculia. It wasn't until I was older -- and allowed to use a calculator or PC -- that I discovered that my failures were simple mental processing errors ttjat could be overcome with help from technology. So, yes, on one hand I still stumble when performing elementary calculations by han
      • by volmtech (769154)
        I feel your pain. I helped my daughter with her math homework every night her senior year. Tears, lots of tears. An otherwise straight student she couldn't add two simple fractions much less graph a function with negative numbers. When cooking if she wants to double a recipe she uses an app on her smart phone. If it involves more numbers than that she will open up her laptop and use Excel. She got a cosmology degree and works full time.
        • by paskie (539112)

          Wow, that's awesome! But doesn't cosmology involve a lot of mathematics, actually quite crazy stuff? How did she get through that?

    • many who suffer from dyscalculia excel at higher math, example string theory

      lolnope lolnope lolnope
      1 lolnope for using "dyscalculia" to describe idiots who can't understand basic math.
      1 lolnope for claiming that many such dullards excel at "higher math".
      1 lolnope for claiming that string theory is "higher math" - it's fucking wankery without rigor and without testing.

      • by khallow (566160)

        1 lolnope for claiming that string theory is "higher math" - it's fucking wankery without rigor and without testing.

        Lack of rigor just means there will be a lot of drama when the day of reckoning comes. It doesn't preclude something from being higher math. And "testing" is completely irrelevant to most higher math.

        • 1 lolnope for claiming that string theory is "higher math" - it's fucking wankery without rigor and without testing.

          Lack of rigor just means there will be a lot of drama when the day of reckoning comes. It doesn't preclude something from being higher math. And "testing" is completely irrelevant to most higher math.

          When your "higher math" claims to describe the Universe, yet is proven wrong whenever any actual observations are thrown at it, only for the theory to add more dimensions and more bullshit, then it's nothing but untestable horse shit on the level of the fucking time cube.

          • by khallow (566160)

            When your "higher math" claims to describe the Universe

            That's a physics problem. The math of string theory is completely independent of that claim.

          • by khallow (566160)
            Let me elaborate. Here are some math results in string theory that hold even if the theory has no relevance to the real world. String theory can only be conformal (that is, transformations of the theory preserve angles) with 16 commutative coordinates and/or 10 anti-commutative coordinates (Grassmanian coordinates). There are various sorts of dualities in theory. There is a classification of current string theories into six types with an overarching metatheory ("M theory") which involves all six cases as sp
    • Better at solving arbitrary problems and performing calculations that are spelled out for you, most likely. Better at innovating and actually understanding what you're doing, though? No.

  • by Valdrax (32670) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @07:43PM (#46233733)

    That led to his next inquiry: If current could turn off regions of the brain making people temporarily math-challenged, could a different type of stimulation improve math performance?

    Here's one. What's the long-term effect of using TCMS during development? Strengthening of the affected areas or weakening thereof / dependency on the stimulation?

    • by Zordak (123132)

      That led to his next inquiry: If current could turn off regions of the brain making people temporarily math-challenged, could a different type of stimulation improve math performance?

      Here's one. What's the long-term effect of using TCMS during development? Strengthening of the affected areas or weakening thereof / dependency on the stimulation?

      I believe the Walt Disney Company explored these issues extensively in their excellent documentary [wikipedia.org] on the subject.

  • If this is possible can we call it a "thinking cap" then my grade 3 teacher will have sounded a little less crazy!
    • Why not just wire fucking solar cells to our brains. Then we can get a energy tax credit AND O-care coverage! Add that up!
    • by PopeRatzo (965947)

      Funny that you say that. My third grade teacher actually was crazy. Middle of the school year she went on "leave". She was kind of a female version of Mr Garrison, except without the gender issues (as far as I know).

      And yes, she also told us to put on our "thinking caps". Problem is, hers was screwed on a little too tight.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @07:44PM (#46233749) Homepage

    [In an earlier experiment, Kadosh] found that he could temporarily turn off regions of the brain known to be important for cognitive skills. When the parietal lobe of the brain was stimulated using that technique, he found that the basic arithmetic skills of doctoral students who were normally very good with numbers were reduced to a level similar to those with developmental dyscalculia. That led to his next inquiry: If current could turn off regions of the brain making people temporarily math-challenged, could a different type of stimulation improve math performance?"

    In another earlier experiment, he found that blowing an air raid horn at random intervals duing the math test made students perform weaker. He's now investigating if other sounds can make students perform better.

  • by TopherC (412335) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @07:45PM (#46233753)

    I read "...and improve their understanding of math concepts" with a lot of skepticism. I think that schools love to teach computation skills because they are easy to teach and because success there is very easy to measure. But this skill is relatively unimportant compared with what I would consider "math concepts": How you apply mathematical abstractions to real-world situations (beyond making correct change at a cash register). How you break down a hard problem into less-hard pieces. How to visualize quantitative relationships, develop and use algebraic systems, and so on. These are rarely taught in schools because they are relatively difficult to teach and difficult to measure gains. So computation skills are taught instead, regardless of the fact that cheap computers are billions or trillions of times faster than any human.

    Can electric current apply to this kind of conceptual learning? If so, it would have application to nearly all kinds of education, not just math.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I am a teacher, and find that student can also learn math if they put their phones down, read the book, concentrate and study.

  • Maybe. Maybe not. Discussion of it probably won't lead to any insights.

    Alexander Fleming had the idea of eliminating diseases by having kids drink a pink liquid extracted from fungus.

    Who would have thought drinking fungus-juice would kill pathogens?

    The brain offers many mysteries we need to unravel, many of them are probably very counter-intuitive and defy present day "logic".
  • by msobkow (48369) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:11PM (#46233969) Homepage Journal

    Hold on. Let me plug in my brain so I can add up these numbers.

    Damn I wish they'd let us use calculators instead...

    • by dudpixel (1429789)

      Ever heard the phrase "let me put my thinking cap on" ?

      This kind of makes that a real thing.

      Thinking on a much bigger scale - can this kind of technique be used to raise the limit of human intelligence? Can the world's brightest minds benefit from this? Is there potential for this kind of research to eventually aid in driving humanity further than we could otherwise have gone?

      Fascinating possibilities if this is true...

  • Ob. Cars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swm (171547) * <swmcd@world.std.com> on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @08:14PM (#46233985) Homepage

    I threw a monkey wrench into the engine of my car, and it ran slower. Maybe if throw something different into it, it will run faster

    • by Hillgiant (916436)

      Wrong approach. You need to get your car's engine to throw monkey wrenches. Reverse the polarity of the monkey wrench beam, if you will.

  • Of course it can. How else could my calculator work.

  • so here we are back at 18th century stupidity levels, passing currents through parts of people's bodies and trying to cause or attributing all manner of health improvements to it. snake oil futures are looking good

  • It worked for teaching chimps to fly
  • by Anonymous Coward

    TDCS is not a new subject, There's a whole subreddit [reddit.com] dedicated to it, not to mention hundreds of studies [nih.gov] using TDCS for everything from curing Tinnitus to increasing general memory and cognitive function.

  • If disabling a brain area makes people better at maths, one can wonder what this area is doing? It There must be some function assoicated with it. In other word: what do we win to be bad at maths?
    • For sure, TDCS usually increases activity around the positive electrode and decreases it around the negative electrode. In this case i'm sure the minor sacrifice these people are making is worth the potentially disabling number-dyslexia.
      • by manu0601 (2221348)
        I just wonder what ability is shut down in order to improve math skills. In other words, what it the anti-math ability?
        • I don't think there really is any Anti-Abilities in the brain. In my research (ahem, extensive internet browsing) on the subject the only positive gains you can get from negatively stimulating a particular area are from when that area is causing problems. As this article states (excerpt below), the gains from this particular experiment are from increasing [positive] stimulation in the math-oriented areas of the brain. If you down-regulate any part of the brain, you're not really "unlocking" any new ability
          • by manu0601 (2221348)

            As this article states (excerpt below), the gains from this particular experiment are from increasing [positive] stimulation in the math-oriented areas of the brain.

            But they say simulating an area decreased performance:

            When the parietal lobe of the brain was stimulated using that technique, he found that the basic arithmetic skills of doctoral students who were normally very good with numbers were reduced to a level similar to those with developmental dyscalculia.

  • If you want to get shocked for science, there are tons of studies that use this technique for all kinds of stuff. http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/... [clinicaltrials.gov]
  • by reboot246 (623534) on Wednesday February 12, 2014 @11:00PM (#46235133) Homepage
    No, but drinking beer can make you smarter.

    It made Bud wiser!!

    No joke like an old joke.
  • ...and you'll never make another math error.

  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday February 13, 2014 @12:50AM (#46235633)

    A ten year old public school boy was finding fifth grade math to be the challenge of his life. His mom and dad did everything and anything to help their son...private tutors, peer assistance, CD-ROMs, Textbooks, even HYPNOSIS! Nothing worked.

    Finally, giving up they enrolled him into a small Catholic school to await another destiny.

    At the end of the first day of school the boy walked in with a stern expression on his face, and walked right past the parents and went straight to his room -and quietly closed the door. For nearly two hours he toiled away in his room -with math books strewn about his desk and the surrounding floor. He only emerged long enough to eat, and after quickly cleaning his plate, he went straight back to his room, closed the door, and worked feverishly at his studies until bedtime.

    The parents were not sure if they should comment on the boys extra efforts for fear of him losing this new found fervor, so they seemingly ignored it. This pattern continued ceaselessly.

    One day the first quarter report card came out. Unopened, he dropped the envelope on the family dinner table and went straight to his room.

    His parents were petrified. What lay inside the envelope? Cautiously the mother opened the letter, and to her amazement she saw a bright red "A" under the subject, MATH.

    Overjoyed, she and her husband rushed into their son's room, thrilled at the remarkable progress of their young son!

    "Was it the nuns that did it?", the father asked. The boy only shook his head and said, "No." "Was it the one-on-one tutoring? The peer-mentoring?", asked the mother. Again, the boy shrugged, "No." "The textbooks? The teacher? The curriculum?", asked the father. "Nope," said the son. "It was all very clear to me from the very first day of Catholic school."

    "How so?", asked his mom.

    "When I walked into the lobby, and I saw that guy they'd nailed to the plus sign, I knew those people took their math seriously!"

    • by Indigo (2453)
      Ok, shouldn't admit it, but I literally laughed out loud on that one.
  • Of course it doesn't make you better at math. I know this because when I was in the military, I was electrocuted more times than I can ...count.

  • the teacher who gave her students oral sex for good achievement on their math tests (in the novel "Cocksure" [amazon.com] by Mordecai Richler).
  • Frantzesco Kangaris for The Wall Street Journal
    Oxford, England

    In England, where the article is referring to, we call it Maths.

    Lets put some electricity through someone's head and see what happens, or, drink a Red Bull for the same effect. Mmm, hard choice :P

    • by cheros (223479)

      Lets put some electricity through someone's head and see what happens, or, drink a Red Bull for the same effect.

      Not *quite* the same effect - it depends if your specific brain makeup is susceptible to stimulants, for the same reason that speed, sorry, Ritalin doesn't work for everyone either. Cranial stimulation is a further development of neurofeedback, where instead of just waiting for a brain region to do its thing, they take the next step and actually prod it into action.

      I wonder how much treatment is n

  • This story is over a year old

It's a poor workman who blames his tools.

Working...