TECH

Electric Shocks To The Brain Can Boost Short-Term Memory, Study Finds

Do not try this at home.

14/03/2017 12:51 GMT | Updated 14/03/2017 12:56 GMT

If you want to boost your memory, you could try out a brain-training app or give the ancient Greeks’ techniques a go.

But it’s probably best to steer clear of a new method uncovered by researchers at Imperial College London.

Their study reveals that stimulating the brain with electricity can synchronise brain waves and boost short-term memory.

It could one day be used to bypass damaged areas of the brain and relay signals in people with traumatic brain injury, stroke or epilepsy.

SIphotography via Getty Images

So how does it work?

Applying a weak electrical current through the scalp helped align different regions of the brain, ensuring brainwaves beat at the same time.

“What we observed is that people performed better when the two waves had the same rhythm and at the same time,” said Dr Ines Ribeiro Violante, a neuroscientist in Imperial’s department of medicine, who led the research.

Participants were tasked with remembering phone numbers which flashed up on the screen as they received the stimulation.

Those whose brains were synched performed the more difficult tasks significantly faster than those whose weren’t.

“The classic behaviour is to do slower on the harder cognitive task, but people performed faster with synchronised stimulation and as fast as on the simpler task,” said Dr Violante.

The researchers also used functional MRI to image the brain to reveal changes during the stimulation process.

“We can use TACS to manipulate the activity of key brain networks and we can see what’s happening with fMRI,” explained Dr Violante.

“The results show that when the stimulation was in sync, there was an increase in activity in those regions involved in the task. When it was out of sync the opposite effect was seen.” 

The method used by the researchers is cheap and could be used in clinics.

“The next step is to see if the brain stimulation works in patients with brain injury, in combination with brain imaging, where patients have lesions which impair long range communication in their brains,” Dr Violante said.

“The hope is that it could eventually be used for these patients, or even those who have suffered a stroke or who have epilepsy.”