Thinking Caps Might Actually Be a Real Thing

“Put your thinking caps on.”

Scientists showed that applying a minor electrical current to a certain area of the brain can improve a person's cognitive abilities. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)
Scientists showed that applying a minor electrical current to a certain area of the brain can improve a person’s cognitive abilities. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

It’s a common phrase, but according to new research from Vanderbilt University a cap that applied a mild electric current to the brain could enhance the wearer’s ability to learn. The cap, however, was also shown to depress learning, depending on the direction of the current.

Psychologists Robert Reinhart, a Ph.D. candidate, and professor Geoffrey Woodman wanted to see if they could control the area of the brain that is associated with learning from our mistakes, which was already known to emit a negative voltage when a mistake is made.

To conduct their research, participants were fitted with a headband with electrodes that applied transcranial direct current stimulation for 20 minutes.

“Using one direction of current flow, we eliminated performance-monitoring activity, reduced behavioral adjustments after an error and slowed learning. By reversing the current flow in the same subjects, we enhanced performance-monitoring activity, increased behavioral adjustments after an error and sped learning,” the study’s abstract stated.

Explained another way, Reinhart told Vanderbilt that when current flowed from the positively charged electrode to the negatively charged one, they found “we can make you more cautious, less error-prone, more adaptable to new or changing situations — which is pretty extraordinary.”

An improvement on cognition was observed for up to five hours after this stimulation, which the study classified as a noninvasive procedure. The study participants, however, didn’t personally notice a positive or negative effect on their cognitive abilities as a result of the stimulation, though the results were observed by scientists.

In addition to improved learning capabilities, the researchers think it could be paired with treatments for disorders like schizophrenia and ADHD, according to the university.

This study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Featured image via Shutterstock.