'Thinking cap' makes brain waves in Australia

Feb 10, 2011
Professor Allan Snyder displays a "thinking cap" (R) on a glass head at the University of Sydney. Australian scientists say they are encouraged by initial results of the "thinking cap" that aims to promote creativity by passing low levels of electricity through the brain.

Scientists in Australia say they are encouraged by initial results of a revolutionary "thinking cap" that aims to promote creativity by passing low levels of electricity through the brain.

The device, which consists of two conductors fastened to the head by a rubber strap, significantly boosted results in a simple arithmetic test, they said.

Three times as many people who wore the "thinking cap" were able to complete the test, compared to those who did not use the equipment. Sixty people took part in total.

Allan Snyder, director of the University of Sydney's Centre for the Mind, said the device worked by suppressing the left side of the brain, associated with knowledge, and stimulating the right side, linked to creativity.

"You wouldn't use this to study or to help your memory," Snyder told AFP. "You would use this if you wanted to look at a problem anew.

"If you wanted to look at the world, just briefly, with a child's view, if you wanted to look outside the box."

He said goal was to suppress mental templates gathered through life experiences to help users see problems and situations as they really appear, rather than through the prism of earlier knowledge.

Snyder added that the work was inspired by accident victims who experienced a sudden surge in after damaging the left side of their brains.

"We know that from certain types of brain damage and abnormalities or injuries, people who suddenly have damage to the left temporal lobe will burst out in the arts or other types of creative activities," he said.

Snyder said the device had been in use by scientists for a decade, but this was the first study into how current passing through the brain could amplify insight.

He said the "thinking cap" had potential applications in the arts and problem-solving, although the science remained in its infancy.

"The dream is that one day we may be able to stimulate the in a particular way to give you, just momentarily, an unfiltered view of the world," Snyder said.

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User comments : 21

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nuge
5 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2011
Allan Snyder, director of the University of Sydney's Centre for the Mind, said the device worked by suppressing the left side of the brain, associated with knowledge, and stimulating the right side, linked to creativity.

"You wouldn't use this to study or to help your memory," Snyder told AFP. "You would use this if you wanted to look at a problem anew.


From this I'd have thought you could use the opposite configuration to help you focus on memorising facts or doing repetitive arithmetic
Sinister181
1 / 5 (2) Feb 10, 2011
"Snyder said the device had been in use by scientists for a decade, but this was the first study into how current passing through the brain could amplify insight."

What the hell? They've been using this technology for a decade, and we're only just hearing about this now? Typical, I suppose.
frajo
3 / 5 (7) Feb 10, 2011
How is "creativity" measured? By passing a math test?
Was it a double blind study? How does a current suppress or stimulate brain hemispheres? How did they know the electricity went through the brain and not along the skin?
This is not science.
Jaeherys
5 / 5 (1) Feb 10, 2011
How does a current suppress or stimulate brain hemispheres?


Deep brain stimulation uses electrodes to suppress cells at specific areas, it may be a bit of a leap but wouldn't low levels throughout the brain cause a similar effect but at lower levels of suppression?

How did they know the electricity went through the brain and not along the skin?
This is not science.


I don't know if this applies but people being struck by lightning have had electricy go throughout there body along nerves. Could a similar process allow electricy to go into the brain?

What I want to know is how do they control what part of the brain is affected without some sort of magnetic field?

Jake
JimB135
5 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2011
I certainly hope this was a double blinded study where the both the testers and the participants did not know which participants were getting current and which were not. Otherwise this could all be one big placebo effect party.
thales
1 / 5 (1) Feb 10, 2011
Otherwise this could all be one big placebo effect party.


Ain't no party like a placebo effect party / cuz a placebo effect party don't stop! Well, until people discover it's a placebo. Hmm, someone should try that at a rave.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (3) Feb 10, 2011
@frajo,

I can't answer all of your questions, but I can answer some:
How does a current suppress or stimulate brain hemispheres?
Neurons maintain a fine balance of electric charge across their cell membranes (called a resting potential.) Neuronal communication relies on transitory disturbances and temporary reversals of that electric potential. Applying an external electric field disturbs that balance, making neurons either more or less apt to communicate (a negative external charge would tend to excite neurons, while a positive external charge would tend to suppress them.) DC electrodes would create a steady voltage across the brain: more positive charge on one side, more negative on the other. Thus, exciting one hemisphere while suppressing the other.
How did they know the electricity went through the brain and not along the skin?
The skin is one of the worst-conducting tissues (it's dry, and lacks electrolytes.) Internal tissues tend to conduct much better.
ArtflDgr
not rated yet Feb 10, 2011
This is ok, but cell phones cause cancer!
Thrasymachus
2.6 / 5 (5) Feb 10, 2011
Internal tissues tend to conduct much better.

This is the part that sort of debunks brain stimulation/suppression. The network of arteries, veins and capillaries in the dermal layer, adipose layer, and throughout the skull ought to act like a pretty good Faraday cage, especially given the electrolyte levels of blood plasma. I mean, detecting neural activity through the wet tissue is one thing, manipulating it is quite another.

To be honest, my first thought when reading this article was wondering when physorg was gonna post a piece on Ergone generators. Although in this case, I'm willing to admit that my assumptions might be in error, it just seems to me that in order to get through the skull, the electric field would have to be so strong that it would damage the intervening tissue.
SkiSci
5 / 5 (2) Feb 10, 2011
This is certainly an experiment to try at home
technicalengeneering
not rated yet Feb 11, 2011
And again, they didn't take the placebo effect into account. Sounds more like bogus 'science' to me.
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Feb 11, 2011
Thanks to all who explained some physiological aspects.
Nevertheless, I'm not convinced that this thing is serious.
The language ("Thinking Cap") is not serious; it sounds like a gadget children play with.
The promises are stated in a non-binding language: "aim at promoting creativity". That's business talk, when you want to sell something but don't want to be held responsible for anything.
How can anyone measure enhanced "creativity"?
And then they go on to tell it "boosted results in a simple arithmetics test". Are arithmetic tests indicators of creativity?
Nothing has been boosted as they didn't measure the results with the same participants without and with the gimmick. When I pass an arithmetic test better than my neighbour then I can't say this result is a boosted one.
No - here definitely somebody is trying to misuse science to make some bucks. Or he is testing the gullibility of the public.
soulman
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 11, 2011
Thanks to all who explained some physiological aspects.
Nevertheless, I'm not convinced that this thing is serious. The language ("Thinking Cap") is not serious; it sounds like a gadget children play with.

Lighten up frajo - scientists are allowed to make humors puns too.
No - here definitely somebody is trying to misuse science to make some bucks. Or he is testing the gullibility of the public.

No, you are wrong here and are reading too much into insignificant details. The device is not a hoax or as scam.
frajo
3 / 5 (2) Feb 11, 2011
No, you are wrong here and are reading too much into insignificant details. The device is not a hoax or as scam.
There is nothing but insignificant details. Even the picture is showing only some box I could have tinkered together when building my first transistored radio receiver. And a sweatband they wear when doing aerobics.
Anything else but insignificant details and loud-mouthed advertisement using legally non-binding language? Any second sources which support their claims? Any tests of noteworthy significance? Any data which allow to independently test the claim?

And again: How do you measure creativity?
soulman
5 / 5 (1) Feb 11, 2011
Any second sources which support their claims? Any tests of noteworthy significance?

Yes there is. I think I heard it examined in more detail in a recent science podcast of The Naked Scientists...
cmn
not rated yet Feb 12, 2011
"Snyder said the device had been in use by scientists for a decade, but this was the first study into how current passing through the brain could amplify insight."

What the hell? They've been using this technology for a decade, and we're only just hearing about this now? Typical, I suppose.


Ever heard of electroshock therapy? ;) This is pretty much the same thing, though at a much lower intensity and in a different configuration.
Moebius
not rated yet Feb 13, 2011
Three times as many people who wore the "thinking cap" were able to complete the test, compared to those who did not use the equipment. Sixty people took part in total.


Here we go with the double blind test BS. The test means nothing if there were apples in one group and oranges in the other. They should have used 2 tests with similar but different math questions and used all 60 people with and then without the cap.

There is no way to assess the math ability difference between the 2 groups without testing them first which is what the study was all about to begin with. A catch 22. This blind subservience to double blinds is baloney and it isn't because I don't understand all about the double blind method, it's because I do. It has its uses in a large test but with so few people as this it was the wrong way to test this head set.
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2011
Three times as many people who wore the "thinking cap" were able to complete the test, compared to those who did not use the equipment. Sixty people took part in total.
Here we go with the double blind test BS.
I don't see any remark that this was a DB test.
The test means nothing if there were apples in one group and oranges in the other. They should have used 2 tests with similar but different math questions and used all 60 people with and then without the cap.
Yes.
There is no way to assess the math ability difference between the 2 groups without testing them first which is what the study was all about to begin with. A catch 22.
Yes.
This blind subservience to double blinds is baloney ...
I don't see the connection between the article and DB tests.
Rob235
not rated yet Feb 13, 2011
Given this is a science website I would expect more then just a copied news article I could read on CNN. However, google to the rescue I cut through the crap and found the research paper.

The answer to all your questions -
(spaced added to get around spam filter)
www . centreforthemind . com/publications/PLoSOneFeb2011.pdf
frajo
1 / 5 (1) Feb 14, 2011
The answer to all your questions -
(spaced added to get around spam filter)
www . centreforthemind . com/publications/PLoSOneFeb2011.pdf
Thanks.
The homepage looks like any politician's PR site. The list of "recent publications" contains seven entries from an Australian newspaper or from the Olympic Committee. Photographs of Prof. Snyder prevail. Lots of pictures with prominent figures. Lots of bloated terms like "genius" and "champions" ("Every chump can be a champ").
A touch of personality cult; no real touch of science.
Rob235
not rated yet Feb 14, 2011
Photographs of Prof. Snyder prevail. Lots of pictures with prominent figures. Lots of bloated terms like "genius" and "champions" ("Every chump can be a champ").
A touch of personality cult; no real touch of science.


I wonder if Sheldon from the big bang theory is based on this guy ;)