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Improving Math Skills One Electrical Current At A Time

November 5, 2010

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — Researchers have shocked the masses with a recently published report.  By applying electrical current to the brain, this topnotch team has shown that they could enhance a person’s mathematical performance for up to six months without influencing their cognitive functions.  These electrifying results may lead to treatment for the estimated 20 percent of the population with moderate to severe numerical disabilities (for example, dyscalculia) and for those who lose their skill with numbers as a result of stroke or degenerative disease, according to the researchers.

“I am certainly not advising people to go around giving themselves electric shocks, but we are extremely excited by the potential of our findings,” which Roi Cohen Kadosh of the University of Oxford was quoted as saying.  “We’ve shown before that we can temporarily induce dyscalculia [with another method of brain stimulation], and now it seems we might also be able to make someone better at maths.  Electrical stimulation will most likely not turn you into Albert Einstein, but if we’re successful, it might be able to help some people to cope better with maths.”

Using transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) ““ a noninvasive technique in which a weak current is applied to the brain constantly over time to enhance or reduce the activity of neurons ““ in order to improve various functions in people with neurological deficits, for instance in those who have suffered strokes.

Researchers applied TDCS specifically to the parietal lobe, a portion of the brain that is vital for mathematical understanding.  The study participants had average arithmetical abilities, but were ultimately asked to learn a series of artificial numbers ““ symbols that had never been seen before that they were told represented numbers ““ all-the-while receiving noninvasive brain stimulation.

Researchers then evaluated participants’ aptitude designed to automatically process the relationship of those artificial numbers to one another and to properly map them in space using standard testing methods for numerical competence.

Brain stimulation, according to the results of the test, improved study participants’ ability to learn these novel numbers (with these improvements lasting 6 months post training.

With the knowledge of TDCS treatment improving numerical processing in people with normal mathematical ability, the researchers intend to test its use in those with more severe numerical disabilities. If it works, that could have essential consequences, Cohen Kadosh said, as people with acute numerical disabilities often cannot manage rudimentary tasks like understanding food labels or counting change in a supermarket.  Poor numerical ability has also been linked to unemployment and low income, depression, low self-esteem, and other problems, Kadosh concluded.

SOURCE: Current Biology, 4 November 2010




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