Applying electrical current to the brain could enhance a person's mathematical performance for up to 6 months without influencing their other cognitive functions, researchers have shown.
The findings may lead to treatments for the estimated 20 percent of the population with moderate to severe numerical disabilities (for example, dyscalculia) and for those who lose their skill with numbers as a result of stroke or degenerative disease, according to the researchers.
"I am certainly not advising people to go around giving themselves electric shocks, but we are extremely excited by the potential of our findings," said Roi Cohen Kadosh of the University of Oxford.
"We've shown before that we can temporarily induce dyscalculia [with another method of brain stimulation], and now it seems we might also be able to make someone better at maths. Electrical stimulation will most likely not turn you into Albert Einstein, but if we're successful, it might be able to help some people to cope better with maths," Roi said.
The researchers used a method of brain stimulation known as transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS). TDCS is a noninvasive technique in which a weak current is applied to the brain constantly over time to enhance or reduce the activity of neurons.
The technique has gotten attention in the last decade for its potential to improve various functions in people with neurological deficits, for instance in those who have suffered a stroke.
The study was reported online on November 4 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.