A report presented at the British Science Festival by professor Heidi Johansen-Berg from Oxford University shows that passing a weak electrical current through specific areas of the brain can facilitate the learning process.
During the research scientists examined changes in the brain that occur after a person reaches adulthood. Also changes caused by paralysis were examined. Researchers monitored brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), while the patients suffering from paralysis were learning to develop their motor skills.The aim was to find out whether the brain stimulation could speed up the physical rehabilitation process of patients by invasive method – applying electric currents to the brain. During the research process scientists discovered that the brain stimulation speeds up learning process in healthy adults.
Researchers made an experiment in which participants were asked to remember a sequence of button presses, an action that was similar to playing the piano. Respondents put a device for conducting transcranial direct current stimulation. It sends a weak electrical current between two electrodes installed in specific brain areas. The electrodes were mounted directly above the left ear and the right eye.
After only 10 minutes of this stimulation, known as transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS), participants showed a significant increase in speed of their learning process, compared with respondents in the control group.
The research showed that electrical stimulation of the brain areas responsible for motor skills helps patients to acquire these skills more easily and quickly. Scientists hope that the same effect can be achieved when applying the stimulation to other areas of the brain. In this case it will be possible to stimulate and accelerate the entire educational process.
From the perspective of patients suffering from paralysis, Johansen-Berg believes that electrical stimulation could be used as a supplement to the common physical therapy and could increase the chances of patients to relearn motor skills. His research team also sees the potential of this method of treatment for athletes preparing for competitions.