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3 Cutting-Edge Studies That Explore Different Types of Neurostimulation

Posted by Cassandra Collins on

3 Cutting-Edge Studies That Explore Different Types of Neurostimulation

TL;DR: Peer-reviewed studies suggest different types of neurostimulation may be the perfect tools for people of all ages to accelerate cognitive learning and boost performance.

At Halo Neuroscience, we’re obsessed with figuring out how the brain works — and how we can optimize it to learn even faster with neurostimulation. We’re not alone —  4,000+ peer-reviewed papers have been published in the last 20 years exploring the potential of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) ,  the type of neurostimulation that powers Halo Sport.

But scientists are constantly innovating, and the results of studies using other types of neurostimulation are starting to show great promise too. Here are 3 must-read papers using transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) and transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) that reveal how neurostimulation might change your future. 

Need more info before you dive in? Check out the glossary at the end of this post.

Study #1: Reinhart and Nguyen show individualized tACS can make an old brain perform just as well as a young one

Key finding

Not only did older adults perform better on a working memory task after receiving tACS than after performing the task without tACS, but they actually performed so well that there was no statistical difference between their performance and that of a group of younger adults! Yep, you read that right —tACS helped a group of 60-76 year olds perform as if they had the working memory of a group of 20-29 year olds. Plus, tACS even helped young adults who did poorly on the memory tasks increase their performance.

Reinhart & Nguyen

Older adults who received tRNS (blue) performed like younger adults (dark grey) and significantly better than when they didn’t receive stimulation (light grey). Source: Reinhart & Nguyen, 2019.
Background

If there’s one thing a neuroscientist knows for sure, it's that no two brains are alike. This paper took the cutting-edge approach of tailoring the tACS stimulation they used to each participant’s natural brainwaves.

Sound like a Black Mirror Episode yet? It shouldexcept one with an ending that leaves you feeling like technology will actually make our futures better, not worse. Imagine a future where a device could look at what’s going on in your head and deliver exactly the stimulation you need to remember your to-do list. Pretty cool, huh?

Study #2: Snowball et al. reveal that 5 days of tRNS training can make you better at math problems for 6 months

Key finding

The group that received tRNS while practicing math problems for 5 days learned about twice as fast as the control group. Even more impressive—the tRNS group still performed better than the control group 6 months later without any extra training. As an added bonus, researchers used a brain-imaging technology called fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy) to conclude that the tRNS group had more efficient brain activity in the stimulated area of the brain compared to the control group.

The group that received tRNS (blue) performed significantly better than the control group (red). Source: Snowball et al., 2013.

Background

This study is awesome because it shows that just a few days of cognitive training with neurostimulation can help you learn faster and, months later, still perform better. That’s a huge ROI for your time.

It would be awesome if we'd had this technology when we were stuck in the library trying to raise our SAT scores to get into our dream schools.

Tired of hearing your grandparents talk about how they had to do everything by hand b.c. (before computers)? One day you might be telling your grandkids about how “we used to have to learn things the old fashioned way—without neurostimulation".

Study #3: Hsu et al. demonstrate tACS can help you multitask

Key Finding

Participants who received tACS performed better on a multitasking driving game compared to a control group. Using electroencephalogram (EEG) technology—which amplifies brain activity like a guitar amp amplifies sound—researchers showed that this improvement was accompanied by a change in brainwaves.

(I can’t help but include a shout-out to the lead author—Wan-Yu Hsu—who now works as a Scientist on our research team at Halo!)

Background

Did you play Mario Kart growing up? The seemingly simple game is actually pretty challenging for your brain. Turns out we’re not very good at doing multiple things at once—including driving while dodging bananas and flying shells.

Similar to Mario Kart, the driving game used in this study involved responding to certain road signs while ignoring others and staying between the lines of the road. So don’t despair if your pride is still hurting from one too many lost games of Mario Kart—there’s hope that neurostim could still gain you back some cred with your friends.

Not actively looking to improve your Mario Kart game? I don’t know about you, but I’d certainly like to up my multitasking ability in other areas of my life—I dream of a glorious empty-inbox future where I’ve mastered responding to emails while checking things off my to-do list.

What’s next?

Whether we’re talking about rolling back cognitive aging, learning math quicker, or successfully juggling the endless demands of modern life—these studies reveal the incredible potential different types of neurostimulation have to change your future.

Now it's time for other scientists to show that they can repeat, expand, and improve upon the results of these studies.

The bottom line: If you’re an individual interested in maximizing your performance — whether physical or cognitive — it’s likely neurostimulation will be a part of your future.

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Glossary:

  • Neurostimulation: An umbrella term encompassing all the tools scientists use to affect activity in the nervous system.
  • tDCS: Stimulating the brain with a steady electrical current. This is meant to work like an assisted pull-up to make it easier for neurons in the target region to fire synchronously (together). 

    • tACS: Stimulating the brain with a wavelike electrical current at a consistent frequency (number of wave cycles per second). tACS waves interact with existing brainwaves to affect brain function. 

    • tRNS: Stimulating the brain with rapidly-changing levels of current in an irregular pattern. The "random noise" input to the brain is thought to help neurons fire synchronously. 

    Want more? Check out this video explaining how neurostimulation helps your brain learn faster. Better yet, test neurostimulation for yourself — Halo Sport is the first brain stimulator to accelerate learning in the part of the brain that controls movement.


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