New brainwave device shown to boost memory performance

23 Oct 2018

Image: © Teeradej/

Researchers have revealed a new brainwave device that supposedly boosts our ability to remember significantly more information.

A device that gives us a significantly enhanced memory has long been a trope of science fiction, and perhaps the dreams of many a student. Now, researchers at University of California, Davis, have revealed a somewhat similar device that enhances brainwaves crucial to our ability to recall information.

In a paper published to Cognitive Neuroscience, the team said its device boosts the ‘entrainment’ of theta brainwaves, as well as memory performance.

In the brain, electrical activity creates different types of brainwaves that can be measured externally. In this case, theta waves occurring at up to six cycles per second can be monitored and are associated with a brain actively monitoring something, such as a rat navigating a maze.

Entrainment devices – which this latest breakthrough has used – use a combination of sound and light to stimulate brain activity and are usually marketed to address problems such as anxiety and sleep issues, with little scientific backing.

However, the research team decided to put one of these devices to the test with 50 volunteers.

Surprising results

The study asked the volunteers to either use the device for 36 minutes, or listen to 36 minutes of white noise and then do a simple memory test. The results showed that those who used the device demonstrated both improved memory performance and enhanced theta wave activity.

This was followed by a second test involving 40 other volunteers, including a control group that received beta wave stimulation. Beta waves are a different type of brainwave pattern and occur much more frequently than theta waves, at up to 30 cycles per second during waking consciousness. Again, the study associated theta wave activity with boost memory performance.

Interestingly, a separate study using electrical stimulation to enhance theta waves had the opposite effect, disrupting these brainwaves and weakening memory function.

Prof Charan Ranganath was one of those involved in the research, and admitted that the researchers were surprised at how well the device worked. “What’s surprising is that the device had a lasting effect on theta activity and memory performance for over half an hour after it was switched off,” he said.

While debate continues over whether theta waves are simply a product of normal brain function or not, Ranganath thinks they may have an important role to play. “The neurons are more excitable at the peak of the wave, so, when the waves of two brain regions are in sync with each other, they can talk to each other,” he added.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic