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Math Science

Can Electric Current Make People Better At Math? 112

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?"
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Can Electric Current Make People Better At Math?

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  • 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 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.

  • Ob. Cars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swm ( 171547 ) * <> 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

Space is to place as eternity is to time. -- Joseph Joubert