Tanya Basu – What Tasers Do to the Brain

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.

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