Fast and painless way to better mental arithmetic? Yes, there might actually be a way

In the future, if you want to improve your ability to manipulate numbers in your head, you might just plug yourself in. So say researchers who report in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 16 on studies of a harmless form of brain stimulation applied to an area known to be important for math ability.

"With just five days of cognitive training and noninvasive, painless , we were able to bring about long-lasting improvements in cognitive and brain functions," says Roi Cohen Kadosh of the University of Oxford.

Incredibly, the improvements held for a period of six months after training. No one knows exactly how this relatively new method of stimulation, called transcranial random noise stimulation (TRNS), works. But the researchers say the evidence suggests that it allows the brain to work more efficiently by making neurons fire more synchronously.

Cohen Kadosh and his colleagues had shown previously that another form of brain stimulation could make people better at learning and processing new numbers. But, he says, TRNS is even less perceptible to those receiving it. TRNS also has the potential to help even more people. That's because it has been shown to improve mental arithmetic—the ability to add, subtract, or multiply a string of numbers in your head, for example—not just new number learning. Mental arithmetic is a more complex and challenging task, which more than 20 percent of people struggle with.

Ultimately, Cohen Kadosh says, with better integration of neuroscience and education, this line of study could really help humans reach our cognitive potential in math and beyond. It might also be of particular help to those suffering with neurodegenerative illness, stroke, or learning difficulties.

"Maths is a highly complex cognitive faculty that is based on a myriad of different abilities," Cohen Kadosh says. "If we can enhance mathematics, therefore, there is a good chance that we will be able to enhance simpler cognitive functions."

More information: Current Biology, Snowball et al.: "Long-Term Enhancement of Brain Function and Cognition Using Cognitive Training and Brain Stimulation." dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2013.04.045

Related Stories

Electrical brain stimulation improves math skills

Nov 04, 2010

By applying electrical current to the brain, researchers reporting online on November 4 in Current Biology, have shown that they could enhance a person's mathematical performance for up to 6 months withou ...

The ethics of brain boosting

Jan 26, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- The idea of a simple, cheap and widely available device that could boost brain function sounds too good to be true.

Synaesthesia linked to a hyper-excitable brain

Nov 18, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- ‘Hyper-excitability’ in regions of the brain may underlie synaesthesia, an unusual condition where some people experience a ‘blending of the senses’, Oxford University ...

Electrical stimulation to the brain makes learning easier

Sep 21, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- A new study presented at the British Science Festival by Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg from the University of Oxford shows that the application of small electrical currents to specific parts ...

Recommended for you

Children with autism have extra synapses in brain

4 hours ago

Children and adolescents with autism have a surplus of synapses in the brain, and this excess is due to a slowdown in a normal brain "pruning" process during development, according to a study by neuroscientists ...

Learning to play the piano? Sleep on it!

6 hours ago

According to researchers at the University of Montreal, the regions of the brain below the cortex play an important role as we train our bodies' movements and, critically, they interact more effectively after ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

arq
not rated yet May 19, 2013
Does this come at the expense of other cognitive abilities?