New breakthrough could allow people to ‘turbocharge’ their brains using electrodes

Rob Waugh
Contributor
Brain Rex

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction: people applying electrodes to their heads to ‘turbocharge’ their brain power, becoming better at learning and decision-making.

But it could become common sooner than we think – after researchers showed off how to boost people’s brain power using electricity.

Researchers at Boston University found that applying electrodes to people’s scalps and stimulating two areas, the medial front cortex and the lateral prefrontal cortex, gives people a boost akin to ‘turbo charging.

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Robert Reinhart used a used a new technique called high-definition transcranial alternating current stimulation (HD-tACS) to improve the synchronisation of brain waves between the two regions.

He says, ‘These are maybe the two most fundamental brain areas involved with executive function and self-control.’

Prof Rob Reinhart Photo by Cydney Scott for Boston University Photography

Reinhart tested 30 healthy participants. Each subject wore a soft cap fitted with electrodes that stimulated brain activity, while additional electrodes monitored brain waves.

In tests where he cranked up the synchrony between the two regions, people learned faster, made fewer errors and adjusted their performance more quickly when they made errors.

His colleague David Somers said, ‘Think about any given workday. You need to be really ‘on’ for one meeting, so you set aside some time on your lunch break for some brain stimulation. I think a lot of people would be really into that—it would be like three cups of coffee without the jitters.’