This Electric Thinking Cap May Temporarily Make People Smarter

by Sean Levinson

Psychologists at Vanderbilt University have created what they call a "thinking cap," a device that increases learning speed by sending electric currents through the brain.

In an experiment that took place last March, the team attached electrodes to the cheeks and scalps of several subjects and secured the wires with an elastic "cap."

One of two types of currents, both of which were very light, were sent through the brain for 20 minutes, according to NBC News.

One current went from the scalp to the cheek while the other moved in the opposite direction.

Participants were then asked to play a video game in which they had to remember which buttons on a controller represented certain colors on the screen.

The team found when the current was sent from the scalp to the cheek, the subject knew which buttons to press 4 percent faster than before.

A current traveling the other way, however, actually impaired the subject's learning ability by about the same amount.

Researchers believe the device speeds up the function of the brain's frontal cortex, which informs you that a mistake has been made and should not be repeated.

This amplifies the brain's ability to recognize and therefore avoid errors, increasing the subject's learning ability in the process.

About 75 percent of subjects experienced changes in learning ability, Yahoo! News reports, and these changes lasted for an amazing five hours even though the electric charge lasted just 20 minutes.

Lead researcher and PhD candidate Robert Reinhart was pleased by the results but skeptical as to whether such a device will ever be widely available.

He said,

In terms of science it's fantastic, but in terms of the average person on the street who want to boost their mental functions -- for that, more research needs to be done.

The study was originally published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Citations: Your Brain on Electricity (Yahoo News), This Thinking Cap Really Does Improve Learning (NBC News)