Computer-Brain Interfaces

Synchronising brain waves using electric pulses could ‘turbocharge’ memory and help treat autism

The Daily Mail

Synchronising brain waves using pulses from electrodes can ‘turbocharge’ the brain, new research has found.

The artificial mental boosts can be used when carrying out small tasks or recovering from mistakes.

It can help improve memory, focus and self-control, researchers claim.

The technique could eventually offer a simple and safe way to perk up the brain, and could one day treat psychiatric disorders like autism, researchers said.

Conditions such as anxiety, Parkinson’s, autism, schizophrenia and ADHD all show signs of disrupted brain wave synchronisation, and the electrode pulses could help to correct this.

Researchers from Boston University developed a new mind-zapping technique called high-definition transcranial alternating current stimulation (HD-tACS) for their study.

The team focussed on two areas of the brain, the medial frontal cortex, and the lateral prefrontal cortex.

The medial frontal cortex lights up when you are surprised or make a mistake, while the lateral prefrontal cortex is involved in rules and goals, and helps us to alter our actions and decisions.

‘These are maybe the two most fundamental brain areas involved with executive function and self-control,’ said study lead author Dr Robert Reinhart.

Previous studies have suggested the two areas communicate with one another through the timing of their brain waves.

The new research tested this theory in practice using the HD-tACS electrodes to stimulate each region in 30 volunteers.

Participants took part in a time estimation task that involved pressing a button when they thought 1.7 seconds had elapsed.

The volunteers received feedback when they missed the target to help them improve on their next attempt.

Dr Reinhart found that using the electrodes to improve the synchronisation, or ‘oscillations’, of brain waves between the two regions boosted their communication.

This allowed participants to perform better on laboratory tasks related to learning and self-control.

On average, the volunteers learned faster, made fewer errors, and recovered from errors more quickly.

The team found that de-synchronising, or disrupting, the timing of the brain waves in these regions impaired participants’ ability to learn and control their behaviour.

These volunteers made more errors and were slower to learn from their mistakes.

The effect was quickly fixed by changing how the electrical stimulation was delivered.

‘We were shocked by the results and how quickly the effects of the stimulation could be reversed,’ Dr Reinhart said.

The technology is still in its early stages, and further studies are needed before it can be scaled up to help people performing more than simple button-pressing tasks.

But it could eventually be used to give you a boost before an important meeting or presentation, scientists said.

‘Think about any given workday,’ said psychologist Dr David Somers, also from Boston University, who wasn’t directly involved in the research.

‘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.’


THE STUDY

The team focussed on two areas of the brain, the medial frontal cortex, and the lateral prefrontal cortex.

The medial frontal cortex lights up when you are surprised or make a mistake.

The lateral prefrontal cortex is involved in rules and goals, and helps us to alter our actions and decisions.

Previous studies have suggested that these two areas communicate with one another through the timing of their brain waves.

The team synchronised waves between these two regions with pulses from an electrode in study participants as they played a simple game.

On average, the volunteers learned faster, made fewer errors, and recovered from errors more quickly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *