Electric zap 'boosts maths ability'
A zap of electricity to the brain can make you a brighter spark at maths, new research has shown.
British scientists have found that passing a low current through a specific brain region can boost mathematical ability.
They believe in future the technique may help people with dyscalculia, or "number blindness" - the mathematical equivalent of dyslexia.
But it is important to get the wiring right. If the electricity flows in the wrong direction it has the opposite effect, creating a person with a poor head for figures.
The same team of Oxford scientists previously showed that temporary dyscalculia could be induced with electrical brain stimulation.
In the new study, 15 student volunteers aged 20 and 21 were given a series of standard tests designed to assess numerical skills. The participants were timed to see how quickly and accurately they could solve mathematical puzzles involving symbols representing numerical values.
During the tests, a one milliamp current was passed across the parietal lobes of two groups of students, while a third group received a "fake" stimulus. The parietal lobe is a brain region that plays a crucial role in mathematical processing.
In one of the stimulated groups, the current flow was from the right to the left parietal lobe, while in the other the direction was reversed. Volunteers who received the right-left stimulus reached a high level of performance in the tests after just a few sessions, the scientists reported in the journal Current Biology.
In contrast, those stimulated with a left-right current saw their performance drop to about the same level as six-year-old children. Students who received a fake "placebo" stimulus had results that fell half way between those of the other two groups.
Dr Cohen Kadosh, from Oxford University's Department of Experimental Psychology, who led the research, said: "We are not advising people to go around giving themselves electric shocks, but we are extremely excited by the potential of our findings and are now looking into the underlying brain changes."