After just five days of non-invasive brain stimulation and a bit of cognitive training, researchers at Oxford University were able to enhance people's high-level abilities, such as mental arithmetic and manual calculations. And remarkably, the effect lasts for months.
The discovery was made by scientists working at Oxford's Department of Experimental Psychology, and it could lead to entirely new education strategies. But more immediately, it could also help people with learning disabilities or neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. We contacted the lead researcher to learn more.
Non-invasive, painless and cheap
It’s called transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) and it’s only been around for a few years. It works by enhancing the excitability of the brain, and it does so by applying random electrical noise to target regions of the cortex via stimulation electrodes placed on the surface of the scalp.
“tRNS has only emerged relatively recently, so how the technique influences the excitability of individual neurons is still somewhat of a mystery,” researcher Roi Cohen Kadosh tells io9. “On a more macroscopic level, it is thought that tRNS may increase neuronal firing synchronization within stimulated regions of the cortex.” And in fact, neuroimaging results suggests that tRNS increases the efficiency with which stimulated brain areas use their supplies of oxygen and nutrients.
What’s more, the technique is non-invasive, painless, and relatively cheap. You can get one from these people, as a matter of fact.
It’s also different from other similar stimulation techniques in two main ways.
“First, it is less perceptible than the more-common transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), so subjects are less aware they are being stimulated,” Cohen Kadosh tells io9. “Second, you can apply TRNS in a polarity-independent fashion, meaning there are no 'positive' or ‘negative’ electrodes to worry about.”
Cohen Kadosh and his...