Admit it: Your maths could be better. Well, neuroscientist Roi Cohen Kadosh might have just the thing. He is using the gentle currents of tDCS to improve the way people handle numbers. He gave subjects the task of learning a set of numbers. Then half of the subjects got stimulation and half did not. After training, the stimulated subjects responded more automatically than the non-stimulated group, indicating that they were processing them more efficiently. Remarkably, Cohen Kadosh says, “the effect lasted for six months.”
However, the effects of training on their own can go some way to explaining the improvement seen in these studies, Jenny Crinion says. So one lesson the studies can teach us is about the power of putting in the hours. Plus, the stimulation does not work in isolation. “Whatever you’re practicing has to be the right thing and you need to pair this with stimulation in the right bit of the brain,” she says.
What if the brain is not infinitely malleable? “If I improve your ability in one cognitive area, such as memory, could I at the same time be making it worse in another?” Chambers asks.
This has not stopped commercial companies from pricking up their ears. Medical technology firms such as Soterix and Magstim supply researchers with their kit, but do not sell to the general public, though some outfits have sprung up offering DIY versions for US$99.