Speed Learning Through Thinking Caps


brainBrain is an enigma; an excellent servant but a terrible master.  It controls us but the moment we try to control it, we find ourselves in uncharted waters.

Recent Developments

With the progress in science, however, we can now find out what our brains are doing, which of its parts are more active and even, to some extent, what it is thinking, just by looking at the EEG (Electro-encephalogram), fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), etc. Pass Thoughts and other interesting applications have been demonstrated in the laboratories.

Moving one step further we can now make our brains do what we want it to do- though a little indirectly. This conditioning or regulation is achieved simply by giving the brain electrical current as input instead of passively monitoring the outputs of EEGs, and other instrumentations. 

Vanderbilt Magic

Brain conditioning or regulation has recently been amply demonstrated at the Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee,  where the proverbial “thinking cap” has been implemented- practically!

Researchers Rienhart and Woodman tried to test the purpose of a negative voltage spike that originates from the medial-frontal cortex part of the brain just milli-seconds after a mistake is made.  They wanted to reach inside the brain and control this inner critic so as to make the brain learn better from its mistakes.

tDCS Treatment

The researchers placed electrodes at the crown of the head and at the cheek of the subject and applied for 20 minutes what is known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).  It is essentially a very mild direct current that travels between the electrodes through the skin, muscle, bones and the brain on its way.

Accelerated Learning

After 20 minutes of tDCS treatment, the subjects were given a task that involved learning by trial and error; matching of specific colors displayed on a monitor with the buttons on a game controller with added complication for the subject “not to respond” when so asked.  The response time was less than a second- ample opportunity to make mistakes and, therefore, plenty of opportunities for the cortex to fire.

Encouraging Results

During this learning process, the cortex spikes (as a result of making mistakes) of the subjects were, on an average, almost twice as large.  This indicated that the the subjects have become “more cautious, less error- prone, more adaptable to new or changing situations” and, therefore, they made fewer errors and learned from their mistakes more quickly.  The effect of this tDCS conditioning lasted for about five hours.

The success rate achieved is much better than that observed using pharmaceuticals or psychological therapies. 

These findings have important implications not limited to speeding up the learning process only but also in the clinical treatments of schizophrenia and ADHD.

Hats off to the researchers at Vanderbilt University.

Caution: DO NOT TRY IT YOURSELF!

Source:  Vanderbilt University.


About Tarique Haider

Tarique Haider is an engineer by training, a pacifist at heart and a teacher by choice. He believes in a better tomorrow through education and technology. Connect with him on Google+