Brain Stimulation Leads to Improved Math Skills, Says Study

A new study finds that brain stimulation can lead to better math skills.

ByABC News
November 3, 2010, 6:18 PM

Nov. 4, 2010— -- Math: People either love it or hate it. For all the haters out there, what if a little zap to the brain could put you on the road to math whizdom?

A new study from the University of Oxford found that applying electrical currents to certain parts of the brain improved a person's mathematical performance for up to six months.

"We are very excited to see these results," said Dr. Roi Cohen Kadosh of the University of Oxford and lead author of the study. "We actually aimed to get to this stage in a few years, but we got here sooner than expected."

The researchers used a kind of stimulation known as transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS. It is a non-invasive technique where a weak electrical current is applied to the parietal lobe, an area of the brain responsible for numerical understanding, spatial sense and navigation.

The study was small and still in the early stages of research, which caused some doctors to voice skepticism about whether practical applications would ever arise in the findings. Still, the developments are exciting in the realm of brain research.

Until this point, researchers said there had not been a treatment that targets numerical ability without having significant side effects to other areas of the brain, such as impaired attention.

"I am certainly not advising people to go around giving themselves electric shocks, but we are extremely excited by the potential of our findings," Kadosh said in the study. "Electrical stimulation will most likely not turn you into Albert Einstein, but if we're successful, it might be able to help some people to cope better with math."

Fifteen healthy adults with normal mathematical abilities were involved in the study. Each participant had to learn a series of fake symbols that represented numbers while receiving the noninvasive brain stimulation.

The results, published in the journal Current Biology, showed that the brain stimulation to the parietal lobe improved participants' ability to learn the new numbers compared to those who were not zapped or those who were zapped in other areas of the brain. The improvements lasted six months after the week-long exercise.