Despite its popularity, using a weak electric current to boost brainpower doesn’t live up to the hype. A new study shows that the most common form of the treatment actually has a statistically significant detrimental effect on IQ scores.
Published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research, the study adds to the increasing amount of literature showing that transcranial direct current stimulation—tDCS—has mixed results when it comes to cognitive enhancement.
“It would be wonderful if we could use tDCS to enhance cognition because then we could potentially use it to treat cognitive impairment in psychiatric illnesses,” says Flavio Frohlich, study senior author and assistant professor of psychiatry, cell biology and physiology, biomedical engineering, and neurology at the UNC School of Medicine.
“So, this study is bad news. Yet, the finding makes sense. It means that some of the most sophisticated things the brain can do, in terms of cognition, can’t necessarily be altered with just a constant electric current.”
TWO TYPES OF BRAIN STIMULATION
Frohlich, though, says that using less common alternating current stimulation—so-called tACS—could be a better approach, one that he has been investigating. Earlier this year, Frohlich’s lab found that tACS significantly boosted creativity, likely because he used it to target the brain’s natural electrical alpha oscillations, which have been implicated in creative thought.