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Biotech Science

Electric 'Thinking Cap' Controls Learning Speed 112

An anonymous reader writes "Vanderbilt researchers say they've shown it's possible to selectively manipulate our ability to learn by applying a mild electrical current to the brain. Using an elastic headband that secured two electrodes conducted by saline-soaked sponges to the cheek and the crown of the head, the researchers applied 20 minutes of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to each subject. Depending on the direction of the current, subjects either learned more quickly, slower, or in the case of a sham current, with no change at all. The [paywalled] study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience."
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Electric 'Thinking Cap' Controls Learning Speed

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  • by StripedCow ( 776465 ) on Sunday March 23, 2014 @12:53PM (#46557675)

    Sigh. We need people to become more eager to _buy_ stuff, not to learn faster!

  • by jgotts ( 2785 ) <> on Sunday March 23, 2014 @01:25PM (#46557811)

    This seems analogous to grabbing a smartphone, connecting a wire to some metal part, plugging that wire directly into a 120 V AC source, and hoping that the smartphone works better afterwards. Yes, smartphones have electricity running through them, too, but what you're doing isn't like to be productive.

    We're only going to be able to safely operate on the brain when we can stably reprogram individual neural networks. That's the model we're going to have to have of the brain. Something on the order of sophistication of microchip and circuit designers with a cadre of millions of neuroprogrammers. Brain programming might one day be the growth field. We can't have opinions of how the brain might work. We need to have facts about how the brain does work, in minute detail.

  • risk aversion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nten ( 709128 ) on Sunday March 23, 2014 @01:37PM (#46557893)

    I disagree. The inventors of the trebuchet had no idea about the Higgs, the inventors of the windmill didn't understand Bernoulli's work, and the first people to take Valerian root had no concept of biochemistry. We can use observed patterns to serve our needs without understanding the reasons for those patterns. Yes a lot of people died eating random plants, but there are a lot of us, and we learn quickly. My favorite part about engineering is using techniques to solve problems that no one understands yet. Its like magic. The best is when a true subject matter expert tells me "that shouldn't work!" and yet it does. Science always catches up and we are the better for it, but that is no reason to proceed with caution when we have so many people, and so much to learn. I would qualify this by saying test subjects should be informed and consenting.

  • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Sunday March 23, 2014 @01:40PM (#46557909)

    We can't have opinions of how the brain might work. We need to have facts about how the brain does work, in minute detail.

    Isn't that precisely what this research result is all about? It's not like they're hawking a product. We knew learning was affected by electrical currents already. Slashdot covered that story. One presumes this result fines that down in terms of what parts of the brain are involved. Or possibly it broadens the study group. I don't know since I can't read the article, but it's going to be something like that. It's research. Experimental research, rather than empty hypothesizing. These researchers are learning how the brain works, and whether or not it's a "delicate organ" as you claim. You only have a hypothesis. They're finding out.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.