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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 ThatAblaze ( 1723456 ) on Sunday March 23, 2014 @12:42PM (#46557617)

    People are going to be lining up around the blockfor the "learn slower" electric charge.. if our society's obsession with alcohol is any indication.

    • So does this article come from the same people who made pluripotent cells by bathing them in acid or not?

    • People are going to be lining up around the block for the "learn slower" electric charge.. if our society's obsession with alcohol is any indication.

      Alcohol? The continued success of America's two political parties seems like better evidence.

    • by flyneye ( 84093 )

      Piss on an electric fence one time... you will learn quickly, grasshoppah...

    • If you think peoples' alcohol decisions are based on their desire to learn more slowly, then you must be a teetotaler who doesn't drink because you don't get it.
      • I do think that alcohol lovers seem to be extraordinarily quick to case aspersions against anyone who posits an opinion that threatens their way of life. It must have something to do with their repetitive use of a substance that dulls their ability to learn.

  • by DexterIsADog ( 2954149 ) on Sunday March 23, 2014 @12:45PM (#46557637)
    ...cause when we execute people by electrocution, they certainly do learn their lesson!
  • 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!

  • Treatment (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

    I wonder if this could be used to treat conditions like chronic fatigue. Those of us suffering from it are just about ready to attach electrodes and a 1.5V battery to our heads.

    • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
      Learning how to use your body properly does wonders for chronic fatigue.

      Look up tensegrities and study physics.

      • Your comment about how to shed chronic fatigue by using the body "properly" is arrogant and misguided at best. Chronic fatigue can be caused by a chemical imbalance, or other medical condition, and all the yoga and body alignment and core work will not cure it. Not that I'm advocating a jolt of electric current through the brain will.

        There is much we don't know, but I don't think we have to start wearing our Aluminum foil hats 24/7 just yet.
        • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
          Your comment is arrogant and misguided at best.

          There is much medical science doesn't know.

          It worked wonders for me and the people who would listen. Also got rid of the constant pain. I remember being confused as a child when doctors would poke and prod me and asked 'does that hurt?'

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      To whoever modded me off-topic, I ask because certain drugs that are used to enhance learning are known to be helpful for people with chronic fatigue.

  • ... will it work with my Lightning connector? ... will it drain my battery?

  • 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 jgotts ( 2785 )

        My objections are evidenced throughout this thread: For example, someone wants to go to Radio Shack and spend $15 to build his very own brain stimulator. Hopefully nothing goes wrong but the cost to society of people with damaged or malfunctioning brains in a lot more than $15. People with damaged or malfunctioning brains can commit murder or become a ward of the state. That's liable to cost society more like in the millions.

        You don't go to Radio Shack and build a kidney dialysis machine for $15, and I don'

        • Can and will are two very different things. Just like you can go out and masturbate in front of the city hall in daylight, you (most likely) will not. Just like someone can fry their moral parts of his brain, doesn't mean he will (most likely fry some other portion, or a big portion altogether...if he manages to fry it in the first place). If everything happens with the merest possibilities, we'd either have a big black hole where the earth is right now, or you would've won the jackpot many times over.
      • >> refactor the law, its bloated, confusing and unmaintainable ... what? ...

        Or did you mean

        refactor the law, it's bloated, confusing and unmaintainable.

        Or possible

        Refactor the law, it's bloated, confusing and unmaintainable.

        Dammit, you're supposed to be a geek. Learn the grammar.

        And you are right, I haven't had my coffee yet.

      • Listen, I'm all for advancing technology and taking risks, but this particular application has the potential to do very real harm to the test subjects. It's one thing if the researchers put themselves at risk, but putting others at risk because of our own ignorance is unacceptable. I would suggest we do such experiments on animal brains until we have a more thorough understanding of whether or not they'll have serious consequences for human brains.
    • 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.

    • Perhaps it's like putting an overclocked CPU in the fridge and observing that it works better there. You don't have to understand something fully in order to manipulate it in certain ways.

  • So, the Electric 'Thinking Cap' "study appears in the current issue".
    I am shocked.

  • by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Sunday March 23, 2014 @02:20PM (#46558171)

    The task in the study that the subjects had to learn is one specifically tailored to make use of the brain area stimulated. Whether this can help in, for example, memorizing the contents of a book remains to be seen.

  • It would be nice to try out with an alternative 2.4 GHz electric field.
  • This electronic thinking cap seems like it will be slightly more pleasant than someone having "a little mental handicap radio in his ear" which emits "some sharp noise to keep people... from taking unfair advantage of their brains."

    For those that wish for the singularity, sadly there's a 50-50 chance of it slipping into a dystopian singularity of forced equality or a professional sports analogy to "The Dark Fields". These possibilities appear to be nearly upon us and we don't even seem realize it... The sp

  • Helmholtz coil in a hat is what you really want when said and done and all the regions are better understood.
    Want to learn a new physical skill .. setting A, polarity Y
    About to drive in hazard conditions .. setting B, AC [cycle-time, intensity, loc_data, ...] ...

    Hope the cancers and what not hold off till after puberty.

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin