Scientists Use Electrical Brain Stimulation to Evoke 'Will to Persevere'

As electricity stimulated their brains, patients displayed unexpected emotions.

Dec. 5, 2013— -- Can science make someone want to overcome their greatest challenge?

Scientists believe they may have found a way to inspire the "will to persevere" in people as long as they don't mind a few electrodes in the brain.

In a study published in the journal Neuron, scientists found that when a part of the brain called the anterior midcingulate cortex was electrically stimulated, patients reported strong feelings "to persevere" through obstacles. The anterior midcingulate cortex is thought to play a role in emotions, pain and decision making.

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The findings came after the scientists implanted electrodes into the brains of two epilepsy patients to find the source of their seizures. But as the electrical current stimulated different parts of their brains, the patients started to display unexpected emotions.

One patient said he felt as if he were stranded in a car with a flat tire and had to figure out how to get to his destination.

"You have to keep going forward," the patient said to the researcher. "It was more of a positive thing, like push harder ... to try and get through this."

The other patient reported feeling worried that something negative was going to happen but at the same time feeling he "had to fight to make it through and not give up."

Dr. Josef Parvisi, lead author of the study and associate professor neurology at Stanford University, said electrical impulses revealed that even complex emotions were "anchored" in brain cells.

Parvisi explained in the study that the electrical pulses in the brain cells of the patents gave rise to "emotions and thoughts we associate with a human virtue, such as perseverance."

Parvisi said the results suggest "that our unique human qualities are anchored dearly in the operation of our brain cells."

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