APR 17, 2015 01:40 PM PDT

Zapping the Brain With Electricity Boosts People's Creativity

Need some creative, out-of-the box ideas? Try adding a little jolt to your next brainstorming session.Time to kiss writer's block goodbye.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have found that stimulating the brain with electrical impulses boosts creativity. The impulses, researchers say, activated specific brain waves associated with originative thinking, and people who were buzzed scored significantly higher on a test of creative thought.

Making Waves

Our brains are constantly emitting different flavors of rhythmic electrical patterns, called neural oscillations, as neurons fire. Alpha oscillations, it was shown nearly 100 years ago, occur most often when we close our eyes and attempt to shut out the outside world. And in 2012, researchers found a link between alpha oscillations and creative thinking. Alpha waves appear to signal a brain deep in thought, daydreaming or conjuring new ideas.

The team from Chapel Hill wanted to see if artificially generated alpha waves could accomplish the same result. So they delivered electrical stimulation to the frontal cortexes of 20 volunteers between the ages of 19 and 30. Each person was tasked with completing two versions of the widely used Torrance Test of Creative Thinking while receiving impulses to the brain for about 30 minutes. The procedure is called transcranial alternating current stimulation, a technique similar to the more well known transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The experiment included two stages: a control stage with sham stimulation and an alpha wave stimulation stage; however, participants didn't know which type they were receiving. In both stages, participants felt a slight tingle at the start of the test. When participants received alpha stimulation they performed significantly higher - about 7.4 percent on average - on the Torrance test than they did during the control session. Researchers published their findings this week in the journal Cortex.

"That's a pretty big difference when it comes to creativity," Flavio Frohlich, the study's author, says. "Several participants showed incredible improvements in creativity. It was a very clear effect."

Boosting Creativity

The findings will be of interest to the emerging DIY brain stimulation community. Tinkerers are making their own electrical stimulation kits to treat their chronic pain or depression, building on recent evidence that's shown transcranial magnetic stimulation to be widely promising, as Wired reports:

British neuroscientists have claimed it can make people better at learning math. A team at Harvard has found promise for depression and chronic pain. Others are looking into using it to treat tinnitus and eating disorders and to speed up stroke recovery. Hundreds of papers have been published, and clinical trials are under way.

However Frolich cautions against people zapping their own brains for personal benefits. "We did a well-controlled, one-time study and found an acute effect," says Frolich. "Also, I have strong ethical concerns about cognitive enhancement for healthy adults, just as sports fans might have concerns about athletic enhancement through the use of performance-enhancing drugs."

Regardless, electrical brain stimulation certainly adds new meaning to "putting on your thinking cap."

(Source: Article by Carl Engelking, blogs.discovermagazine.com)
About the Author
You May Also Like
NOV 05, 2018
Neuroscience
NOV 05, 2018
Stress: Men Vs. Women
Undersatnding the gender specific differences in response to stress...
NOV 06, 2018
Cell & Molecular Biology
NOV 06, 2018
Mapping the Brain
The brain still holds many mysteries, but scientists are finding ways to learn more about how it works....
NOV 10, 2018
Health & Medicine
NOV 10, 2018
Heart Attack Or Panic Attack? Knowing When To Seek Help
Chest pain, shortness of breath, and feelings of impending doom are all symptoms representative of both heart attacks and panic attacks. For this reason, i...
NOV 16, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
NOV 16, 2018
Using Light to Control Organ Development
Optogenetics combined genetic engineering with optics to create a way to control cellular behaviors with light....
DEC 10, 2018
Neuroscience
DEC 10, 2018
Brain's Dopamine: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Dopamine in the brain is an important neurotransmitter that is often attributed to pleasure chemical. But that's not all it does; research has identified the role of dopamine in fear, emotion...
JAN 07, 2019
Technology
JAN 07, 2019
Software Program Decodes Rodent Chatter
Scientists have long known that rats and mice are social animals, always chatting up something new. Curious about understanding what is communicated betwee...
Loading Comments...