This is so fascinating. Oxford University scientists studying how to repair learning circuits in stroke victims have discovered that the same techniques when applied to healthy people can significantly improve learning speed.

The technique? Well it’s a bit Frankenstein-ish, but it involves being fitted with a “trans-cranial current stimulation” device, in which two electrodes are placed in a specific position on the head. A very small current is passed between the electrodes in an arc through the brain and, depending on the direction of that current, either increased or decreased the activity of that part of the brain.

The BBC reports that, “The experiments have explicitly shown that stimulating the motor cortex of the brain can increase the speed of learning motor skills. It is the hope of the researchers that the same method may be applied to other parts of the brain to improve educational learning, simply by positioning the electrodes in different locations so the current is focussed on the correct area.”

And before you think, “Well great science, but completely impractical,” the report concludes: “The relative simplicity, low price (around £2,000 per unit), and portability of the technology may mean that, following further research, a device could be designed to be automated for use at home.”

Sounds like Apple’s next product, doesn’t it: the iBrain.

But, more seriously, this research helps us much better understand why sometimes the brain can go awry. If electricity can improve our learning and processing skills, then electrical shortage or malfunction in the brain can obviously have a serious detrimental effect on our thinking, and hence feeling too.  I’m guessing maybe this is why ECT can sometimes jolt someone out of deep and serious depression.

At any rate, it’s wonderful to see the way that God is leading scientists into a better understanding of our inner “universe,” as some neurologists are increasingly describing the brain.

I hope and pray that Christian counselors will allow such research to help them better understand the interaction of the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual, and adjust their presuppostions accordingly.

  • Dave

    Using this on healthy brains makes reminds me of the ethical questions surrounding mental performance enhancing drugs – like college students using adderall for improved study concentration. Though I haven’t tried them I’m wondering if you have encountered it in higher education and if you have any thoughts on the ethics, usefulness and God-honoring nature of the practice.

  • Cris

    Interesting that researchers would jump quickly to attempting to improve cognitive learning. Surely that means mostly acquiring facts or bits of information. Perhaps they hope it also increases, strengthens the reflective and application abilities of the mind? Otherwise you are creating idiot-savants, suddenly knowledgeable about numbers, or increased vocabulary, but no “wisdom” to make mature (godly?!) use of this boosted gray matter.

    As one who was father to a profoundly handicapped boy (now with the Lord) who was unable to sit up, walk or feed himself, I think it would be sufficient to stay focused on helping the brain to learn motor skills. There’s certainly little ethical dilemma in that direction.