May 172013

Maths lesson

People who struggle with maths problems might fare better after a course of gentle electric shocks to the brain, scientists have claimed.

Psychologists at Oxford University found that students scored higher on mental arithmetic tasks after a five-day course of brain stimulation.

If future studies prove that it works – and is safe – the cheap and non-invasive procedure might be used routinely to boost the cognitive power of those who fall behind in maths, the scientists said. Researchers led by Roi Cohen Kadosh zapped students’ brains with a technique called transcranial random noise stimulation (TRNS) while they performed simple calculations, or tried to remember mathematical facts by rote learning.

In the study published in Current Biology, 25 students had electrical pulses fired across their brains, while 26 others had a sham treatment, in which they thought they had brain stimulation, but the equipment was turned off.

In tests afterwards, the students who had their brains stimulated solved maths puzzles 27% faster than the control group, suggesting that their brains were working more efficiently.

“Our aim is to help those with poor numeracy, which is approximately 20% of the population,” Cohen Kadosh told the Guardian. “But we need to extend the results to the general population, and use more ecological settings, such as classrooms. There is of course more work to be done, but it is a promising direction.

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