Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Brain Stimulation & Memory: How Strong Is the Evidence?

neuron

The data show convincingly that tDCS does not enhance brain function.

By Jared Cooney Horvath

For nearly 15 years, scientists have reported that running a weak electric current through the brain can improve learning and memory. What if we got it wrong?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

If you’ve ever licked the end of a 9-Volt battery, you know the result can be an eye-opening jolt because the tongue is a conductor that completes an electric circuit between the ends of the battery. Another organ in the body that’s a conductor is the brain, and 15 years ago a group of German researchers reported that they were able to use the brain to complete an electric circuit in the same manner. But here’s the interesting bit: these researchers reported that as the electric current flowed through the brain, activity within the brain was significantly enhanced.

The technique of running a weak electric current through the brain to modulate neural activity is today called trans­cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Since 1999, more than 1400 scientific articles have been published suggesting that tDCS can be used to improve memory, accelerate learning or enhance physical performance. There are currently three tDCS devices available for public purchase without the need for a medical prescription, so there’s likely to be hundreds of people zapping their brains right now in the hope that they are supercharging their cognitive and behavioural abilities.

As my background is in education, I decided to undertake research to determine whether tDCS could improve classroom performance in students with learning difficulties such as attention deficit disorder and...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.