Could painless brain stimulation make us all smarter?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A simple technique that simulates the brain boosts math skills.

Neuroscientists say stimulating the brain electrically increases math skills. Since math is a highly complex learning process, researchers suggest painless brain stimulation could also have other applications for helping individuals with decreased cognitive function.

The finding, published in the journal Current Biology, suggests it might be possible to stimulate the human brain power in as little as 5 days of cognitive training, combined with transcranial random noise stimulation (TRNS).

If you haven’t been using your brain to full capacity, TRNS might make you smarter.

According to researcher Roi Cohen Kadosh of the University of Oxford, no one really knows how TRNS works, but in studies, the boost in mental function lasted up to six-months.

TRNS boosts the way neurons in the brain transmit signals; making them more synchronous.

That means the technique might even help people suffering from stroke or learning disorders.

Researchers used the technique on students who were asked to perform math tests over a 5-day period.


The study included 51 participants. Only one group received the high intensity brain shocks that are delivered by placing electrodes on the scalp.

The result was improvement in solving math problems that require calculation and rote learning. MRI tests showed TRNS improves the brain’s ability to use oxygen and other nutrients.

The group receiving TRNS was able to learn more quickly and solve problems faster.

The researchers note more studies are needed to ensure boosting one area of the brain won’t lead to damage in another.

The study showed the brain stimulation technique boosted math skills for up to 6-months.

The scientists previously found stimulating the brain with a technique known as transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) also improved math skills. The new technique, TNRS, is barely perceptible to the user, the researchers say.

The neuroscientists may have found a way to make us all smarter with electrical brain shocks, in addition to a new way to boost learning ability for stroke patients and people with other brain disabilities.

Current Biology
Snowball et al.:
"Long-Term Enhancement of Brain Function and Cognition Using Cognitive Training and Brain Stimulation."