Flash of fresh insight by electrical brain stimulation

February 2, 2011

Are we on the verge of being able to stimulate the brain to see the world anew - an electric thinking cap? Research by Richard Chi and Allan Snyder from the Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney suggests that this could be the case.

They found that participants who received of the anterior temporal lobes were three times as likely to reach the fresh insight necessary to solve a difficult, unfamiliar problem than those in the control group. The study published on February 2 in the open-access journal .

According to the authors, our propensity to rigidly apply strategies and insights that have had previous success is a major bottleneck to making creative leaps in solving new problems. There is normally a cognitive tradeoff between the necessity of being fast at the familiar on one hand and being receptive to novelty on the other.

Chi and Snyder argue that we can modulate this tradeoff to our advantage by applying transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a safe, non-invasive technique that temporarily increases or decreases excitability of populations of neurons. In particular, tDCS can be used to manipulate the competition between the left and right hemisphere by inhibiting and/or disinhibiting certain networks. Their findings are consistent with evidence that the right anterior temporal lobe is associated with insight or novel meaning and that inhibition of the left anterior temporal lobe can induce a cognitive style that is less top-down, less influenced by preconceptions.

While further studies involving in combination with are needed to elucidate the exact mechanisms leading to insight, Chi and Snyder can imagine a future when non-invasive brain stimulation is briefly employed for solving problems that have evaded traditional cognitive approaches.

More information: Chi RP, Snyder AW (2011) Facilitate Insight by Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation. PLoS ONE 6(2): e16655. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016655

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not rated yet Feb 02, 2011
This reminds me of an idea I had as a child, using some sort of speech recognition type learning algorithm with EEG type data, and responding back to the brain with similar stimulation to bring back the same thought or way of thinking

- Think supercharging your brain for learning mode :p Just speculation of course, but the further into the future we go the less outrageous these ideas become ;)

I do hope things like this come about, and I think to keep it from being abused by government or other such organizations educating the unaware is key. Just one opinion :)
not rated yet Feb 02, 2011
The government is more likely to regulate something like out of existence, rather than abuse it.
1 / 5 (1) Feb 03, 2011
This puts one in mind of nothing so much as Jonathan Swift's Journey to Laputa. There, the great scientists were so engrossed in abstract thinking that a servant with a blown up bladder with dried peas that rattled about in it, occasionally would flap these philosopher's mouths and ears. Thus, as is now confirmed by these brave researchers anew, some sort of external stimulation seems to be the key to creativity. Eureka! Let's get started right away. Jolly good show this. Eh what?
not rated yet Feb 03, 2011
The government is more likely to regulate something like out of existence

Definitely. Imagine if the people were to be more creative? What a horror scenario for any government. the sheep could get the crazy idea that they really don't need the shepherd.

But I'm betting one or two artists will try to paint / sculpt under the influence of electrostimulation pretty soon.

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