For those that are trying to figure out a scientifically verified way to improve intelligence and brain function, will be glad to know that several studies rally for the mind-improving benefits of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, known to many as tDCS. Although the science in this method is early, it is extremely promising. And please heed this warning, do not try this at home, by yourself, without supervision.
What is Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation?
Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation is a painless and non-invasive therapy that involves the delivery of mild electrical currents. In effect, these currents help stimulate certain areas of the brain. TDCS can help increase fluid intelligence through two methods, namely–
1) Anodal- stimulation that results in the excitation of neuronal activity. Research shows that it is beneficial in improving both cognitive and motor functions.
2) Cathodal – Stimulation that reduces or diminishes neuronal activity.
According to several researches, tDCS helps increase fluid intelligence through this pathway:
tDCS -> improved excitability of the cerebral cortex -> improved arousal -> enhanced responses to sensory inputs -> improved information processing in the cortical circuits.
How is Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Performed?
To begin the process of tDCS, two electrodes are placed over the head. Once the machine is fired up, constant low-intensity current (one to two milliamperes) is passed through the said electrodes for 10 to 20 minutes straight. The passing current then results in the modification neuronal activity.
To prevent any adverse side effects, experts recommend allotting 48 hours before undergoing another round of tDCS.
Again, do not try this without supervision or at least first consulting a doctor.
Things to Expect
While tDCS is relatively painless, you can experience slight burning or mild tingling upon the application of electrical current. Headache and nausea can also be expected, especially if the electrode is placed above the mastoid for the stimulation of the vestibular system.
Phosphene, or a flash of light without light entering the eye, is another phenomenon that can occur during tDCS.
Advantages of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation
There are many methods that claim to increase intelligence, but tDCS trumps these other techniques because of the following advantages:
- tDCS treatment is cheap.
- tDCS is relatively painless.
- tDCS is non-invasive, so there is less downtime associated with pain and recovery.
- tDCS is guaranteed safe and effective.
- tDCS comes with a low risk of adverse events, i.e. seizures.
- tDCS machines are compact and portable.
- tDCS machines are easy to use.
Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Improves Learning, Researches Say
Throughout the years, numerous researches concerning Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation have been published, and most of them validate the mind-enhancing powers of the said activity.
One of the said studies is that of Meinzer et al., which was published in the Cortex Journal just this January 2014. According to this study, participants who underwent tDCS showcased improved learning curves, as well as more pronounced learning during the recall task (a measurement of memory). As for the recognition task, the subjects who underwent tDCS achieved better overall learning scores. In conclusion, the researchers claim that tDCS is a valuable tool for language recovery, especially in subjects who suffered from stroke.
Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Speeds Up Learning, Too
Apart from improving cognitive functions, tDCS has also been proven effective in speeding up the learning process. Backing up this claim is the study conducted by Biomedical Engineer Andy McKinley and his colleagues. It featured Air Force Pilots, who were tasked to undergo the difficult training of guiding unmanned attack drones through complex radar images. The research proved that the training time can be cut in half simply by delivering tDCS while the pilots were navigating through video simulators. Apart from hastening training, tDCS has helped improve pilot accuracy to up to 40 minutes, two times more than the peak accuracy time of 20 minutes.
Another research that boosts tCDS’ claim of hastening learning is a study conducted by experts from the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque. It aimed to measure the physical and functional changes in the brain after tCDS treatment by monitoring brain waves and interpreting MRI scans. The study showed that people who underwent tCDS exhibited a six-fold increase in brain wave amplitude, which was sustained for 50 minutes after the end of the stimulation. As per MRI scans, the researchers saw structural changes in the white matter of the brain.
According to Robert Turner, a brain imaging expert, such changes could correspond to increased insulation fibers (myelin,) which could then lead to faster transmission of information through the brain.
These impressive results, according to the researchers, show the great ability of tDCS to accelerate learning in humans.
Other Benefits of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation
Apart from enhancing cognitive functions, tDCS also shows promise in other fields. For one, several clinical trials demonstrate that this form of current stimulation is effective in alleviating the signs and symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, epilepsy and tinnitus. People with speech difficulties also demonstrated improvement even a week after tDCS.
In studies concerning Parkinson’s Disease, patients who underwent tDCS of the primary motor cortex experienced better cortical excitability and lowered inhibition, therefore resulting in better motor function in the said individuals. tDCS has also been utilized in stroke studies, and the research conducted by Baker et al. shows that current stimulation targeted at the left frontal cortex is helpful in improving naming accuracy in stroke patients suffering from aphasia. Add to that, a study by Fusco et al. shows that tDCS can also improve skill and execution in said patients. Because of its low cost, the portability of the machine, and the lack of major adverse effects, tDCS is becoming the treatment of choice for stroke patients.
Apart from the abovementioned benefits, many researches concerning tDCS are treading through the field of psychiatry, specifically through the mental disorders of schizophrenia and anxiety. It has also been proven effective in treating depression, especially when tDCS is applied in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.
While tDCS is highly beneficial in treating depression, it is also deemed helpful in regulating emotions in healthy humans. A study by Nitsche et al., published in the journal Frontiers of Psychiatry, show that it can help enhance emotional processing in healthy individuals, thereby making them happier.