'Thinking Cap' Speeds Up Learning

Users less prone to errors in gaming task
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 30, 2014 11:02 AM CDT

A real-life "thinking cap" is finally here, and it's made by strapping sponges to your head. Scientists at Vanderbilt University have developed headgear that sends a subtle electric current through subjects' brains. It doesn't feel like much—just a little tingling at first—but the current appears to boost our learning ability, the researchers find. They tested the gizmo by measuring electrical brain activity among subjects after their brains were stimulated for 20 minutes. They were asked to deduce, by trial and error, which buttons on a game controller were associated with which colors on a screen, Kurzweil reports. The study depended on the idea of an "inner critic," says a researcher, per the Daily Mail.

Our brains show a negative voltage spike when we make a mistake; it's what Kurzweil calls an "instinctive 'oops' response." In a majority of subjects who had received anodal stimulation—current running from their crowns to their cheeks—a spike in brain activity during the experiment was significantly higher. Those subjects also learned faster and made fewer mistakes than did a "placebo" group that didn't get brain stimulation. Among subjects who received cathodal stimulation—current running in the opposite direction—the spike was smaller and subjects messed up more frequently. In other words, "we can make you more cautious, less error-prone, more adaptable to new or changing situations—which is pretty extraordinary," says the researcher. (More thinking cap stories.)

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