People who struggle with mathematics could be helped by using electrodes to “excite” certain areas of the brain, a study has suggested.
Test subjects were asked to do sums while being exposed to high-frequency, random electrical noise stimulation, also called tRNS.
The team, from the universities of Surrey and Oxford, Loughborough University and Radboud University in the Netherlands, sent a mild electrical current to the brain through two electrodes on the scalp
“What we have found is how this promising neurostimulation works and under which conditions the stimulation protocol is most effective,” said Prof Roi Cohen Kadosh, head of the school of psychology at the University of Surrey.
“This discovery could not only pave the way for a more tailored approach in a person’s learning journey but also shed light on the optimal timing and duration of its application.”
Test subjects were split into four groups, including a learning group and an overlearning group – in which people practised maths “beyond the point of mastery” while being exposed to tRNS.
The other two groups were exposed to a placebo, which researchers said was similar to real stimulation but without significant electrical currents.
Brain activity was measured via an electroencephalogram (EEG) recording at the start and end of the stimulation.
The team found the ability of those whose brains were less “excited” by maths during the assessment had improved after stimulation.
“Previously, we have shown that a person’s ability to learn is associated with neuronal excitation in their brains,” said Prof Cohen Kadosh.
“What we wanted to discover in this case is if our novel stimulation protocol could boost, in other words excite, this activity and improve mathematical skills.”
There was no change in those who performed well in the initial assessment, or in those included in the placebo groups.
The study, published in the journal Plos Biology, used 102 people and assessed their mathematical skills beforehand.