Electric Shocks to Brain Could Improve Math Skills

Oxford University researchers found that students were better number-crunchers after a five-day course of brain stimulation. Here’s Ian Sample writing for Guardian Science:

If future studies prove that it works – and is safe – the cheap and non-invasive procedure might be used routinely to boost the cognitive power of those who fall behind in maths, the scientists said. Researchers led by Roi Cohen Kadosh zapped students’ brains with a technique called transcranial random noise stimulation (TRNS) while they performed simple calculations, or tried to remember mathematical facts by rote learning.

In the study published in Current Biology, 25 students had electrical pulses fired across their brains, while 26 others had a sham treatment, in which they thought they had brain stimulation, but the equipment was turned off.

In tests afterwards, the students who had their brains stimulated solved maths puzzles 27% faster than the control group, suggesting that their brains were working more efficiently.

Some scientists doubt the claim’s validity, primarily because the study’s sample size was so small. Widespread implementation of this practice could also have ethical ramifications. Listen to this NOVA radio story (co-produced with PRI’s The World) to learn more.