Electric currents through the brain could lead to accelerated learning

Remember that scene in The Matrix where Neo is strapped into a chair, hooked up to a computer via a huge needle-stlye plug into his brain, and then has all the information about the art of Kung Fu uploaded directly into his brain? 

Well that scene may just become a reality as researchers from HRL Laboratories in California may have discovered a way to amplify the learning of complex real-world skills. But you’ll be happy to know it doesn’t involve a big needle plug to the brain.

HRL Labs are a corporate research-and-development laboratory partly owned by The Boeing Company, so no surprise their first stop was to try and enhance the skills of pilots. They used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) delivered via an electrode-embedded head cap to subjects using a flight simulator.

At the head of the team is Dr. Matthew Phillips.

“We measured the brain activity patterns of six commercial and military pilots, and then transmitted these patterns into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an airplane in a realistic flight simulator,” said Dr. Phillips.

“We measured the average g-force of the plane during the simulated landing and compared it to control subjects who received a mock brain stimulation,” says Phillips.

The study found that the subject who received the low-current electrical brain stimulation improved their piloting abilities. The study has been published in the February 2016 issue of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, for those who wish to find out more.

Okay, it is not uploading information direct to the brain as they do in sci-fi film The Matrix, but it is the first study to show that tDCS is effective in accelerated practical learning. If we can harness the methods of learning and turn them up to eleven, just imagine what humans could achieve.

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