Tasers aren’t known to be the gentlest things, to put it mildly. The devices deliver 50,000 volts of electroshock, and though deaths after use of electroshock weapons — Taser is the brand name — are relatively rare, in 2015, at least 48 people died during interactions with police who used Tasers. Now, a team of scientists at Drexel University and Arizona State University set out to investigate — what are Tasers doing to the brain?
Their results, published recently in the journal Criminology & Public Policy, suggest that the electroshock can impair a person’s cognitive functioning for up to an hour after being Tased, which “questions the ability of … suspects to waive their Miranda rights knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily within 60 minutes of a Taser exposure,” the authors write. For their study, the researchers separated 142 students into four groups. Two of the groups received five-second shocks, one with no preparation, the other after punching a bag, to simulate the high intensity of a police encounter. One of the other remaining groups did nothing, and the other also hit the punching bag. Regardless, the participants were also put through a rigorous set of physical tests to ensure their health and cognitive ability and were barred from drinking alcohol or taking drugs — an important caveat, given that many who are Tasered are later found to have mental-health problems and alcohol or drugs in their system.