Air crew, drone operators, and other personnel serving in the military's most demanding roles may soon get a non-pharmacological boost: brain stimulation. Devices that use five electrodes to shoot weak currents into very specific targets in the cortex have performed very well in studies investigating performance under pressure, boosting cognitive ability in a way that could be safer than prescription drugs, reports the Guardian. Both modafinil and ritalin are said to be used off-label to enhance performance in the military.
In the latest study, scientists asked participants to keep a crosshair inside a moving circle on a screen while juggling three other tasks on the same screen for 36 minutes. One group had a constant two milliamp current beamed into their brains, while the control group only had 30 seconds of stimulation at the start. The constantly stimulated group began performing better just four minutes in—a "profound effect" that provides "new evidence" of a "human operator" having enhanced multitasking abilities via brain stimulation, the researchers write in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. Not everyone is thrilled. "Even for those jobs where attention is absolutely critical, you want to be very careful about making it compulsory," one ethicist tells the Guardian. (Japan cops jailed an American woman for having Adderall.)