Get your thinking cap on: scientists create working thinking cap

27 Mar 2014

The thinking cap in action

A team of psychologists at Vanderbilt University have developed an electric thinking cap which supposedly can increase, or decrease, a person’s ability to learn.

Originally published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the study undertaken by psychologists Robert Reinhart and Geoffrey Woodman, was designed to explain why the sending of a mild electric current into the medial-frontal cortex of the brain, can teach us how to learn at a faster rate.

This cortex is responsible for the “oops” affect whereby mistakes we have made are recognised by the brain and learned upon. Until now, it was understood that a current would affect the rate of learning, but it was never understood why this happens.

Once the cap was attached to the selected subjects’ heads were subjected to three different stimulations: anodal (current traveling from the electrode on the crown of the head to the one on the cheek), cathodal (current traveling from cheek to crown) or a sham condition that replicated the physical tingling sensation under the electrodes without affecting the brain.

This stimulation went on for a period of 20 minutes before being given a series of tasks to learn.

According to their results, the figures showed that there was indeed an improvement in their ability to learn, but did little to change the opinion of the test subjects as their error rates only varied about 4pc either way, and their behavioural adjustments adjusted by a matter of only 20 milliseconds.

The biggest improvement in learning ability was seen when anodal current was applied, as the EEG spike was almost twice as large on average and was significantly higher in a majority of the individuals tested at about 75pc.

Speaking about the results, Woodman said they were delighted with the success rate shown: ““This success rate is far better than that observed in studies of pharmaceuticals or other types of psychological therapy.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic