TECH

This 'Turbo Charge' Brain Stimulation Is Like Three Cups Of Coffee, But With None Of The Downsides

A pre-meeting boost?

10/10/2017 12:57 BST | Updated 10/10/2017 12:57 BST

Scientists have developed a way of ‘turbo-charging’ the human brain meaning that you learn faster, make fewer errors, and get better at a task more quickly.

David Somers, Professor of Psychological and Brain sciences, explained: “It’s really easy to mess things up in the brain but much harder to actually improve function.”

However, this new technique, could in theory be akin to “three cups of coffee” but without any of the jittery caffeine-induced side effects.

Boston University

The team from Boston University, lead by Assistant Professor Robert Reinhart, were studying how parts of the brain interact in healthy participants.

In particular the medial frontal cortex - the “alarm bell” of the brain that is responsible for letting you know when you’ve made a mistake - and the nearby lateral prefrontal cortex - an area that stores rules and plays an important role in changing actions.

It was thought that the interaction of these two areas played an important role but this was the first time their impact was tested on our behaviour in real-time.

Somers said: “The science is much stronger, much more precise than what’s been done earlier.”

Using high-definition transcranial alternating current stimulation (HD-tACS), which in layman’s terms is a noninvasive, soft cap covered in electrical nodes that goes on the head, the researchers were able to turn this ‘charge’ on and off. 

In fact they were able to tangibly switch volunteers from ‘smart’ to ‘stupid’ with immediate affect - when Reinhart cranked up the synchrony between the regions people were performing better.

Conversely, disrupting them had an effect on how well they were doing in tests.

But the people themselves didn’t even notice.

“We were shocked by the results and how quickly the effects of the simulation could be reversed,” said Reinhart. 

And don’t worry, participants were able to recover original levels of brain synchrony and learning behaviour within minutes. 

So could electrical simulation be a suitable pre-meeting fix for when you really need to be on your A-game? Reinhart certainly thinks so. 

Regardless of whether you’d want to use one in the office, the team are optimistic that they could be used in the future to replace “messy” drugs and provide targeted treatments for psychiatric and neurological disorders.

Such as anxiety, Parkinson’s, autism and ADHD.