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Air Force pilots were studied for ways to increase their ability to pick out targets from radar image. Training time was cut in half with delivery of an electric current to the pilots’ brains.
Apparently, the only holdup keeping the Air Force from deploying some new deadly weapons is the fact that some pilots have difficulty picking out moving targets in the complex radar imagery. Now, it seems, there will be no more problems, so Bombs Away! According to a recent report given at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, pilot training was sped up due to the delivery of a mild electric current.
The current is given at two milliamperes for 30 minutes. It is delivered through electroencephalographic (EEG) electrodes. The name for this wonder treatment, you may ask? Transcranial direct current stimulation or TDCS.

Air Force researchers are happy with this news and biomedical engineer Andy Mckinley believes there is no other treatment or regimen that is comparable to TDCS. He also maintains that this therapy sustains pilot accuracy for around 40 minutes, and it has usefulness for accelerating retraining and recovery after brain damage or injury, too.

This idea of using electrical stimulation for a desired effect has a long history dating back to the 19th century when ‘electrotherapy’ was popular among physicians. Pulses of electric current were used to treat anything from anxiety to ovarian cancer. The placebo effect was said to have been at work with many of these cases, and while these experiments were cautiously controlled, skeptics consider this placebo effect to be at work with the Air Force’s research, as well.

It appears that the participants were aware of the sensation of TDCS when receiving a therapeutic dose. The subjects of this stimulation claim to feel a mild tickling sensation but nothing painful. They also made claims to ‘be more alert’ and to be more aware and on key. This new procedure leaves us all scratching our heads, wondering, “Why?”

The lead author of this research study, Dr. Bullard, maintains that this procedure allows for altered brain-wave activity and accelerated learning. She examined MRI brains scans and magnetoencephalography (MEG) and found physical changes to confirm this. Apparently, these tests showed that TDCS gave a six-times baseline boost to the amplitude of a single brain wave.

This boost was not seen when a placebo TDCS was used and this mock wave was ineffective in exciting brain tissue. Basically the effect will persist long after the TDCS is stopped, up to almost an hour of time. These results tell us that TDCS increases the cerebral cortex excitability, therefore increasing arousal, improving sensory input response, and speeding up information processing.

Surprisingly, the MRI brain tests revealed actual structural changes in the brain five days after the TDCS was done. The neurons of the cerebral cortex connect with each other to form circuits by way of nerve fiber bundles (axons) that are buried deep below the surface of the brain. These fiber bundles are more robust and highly organized after the TDCS. None of this is noted on the side of the brain that is not stimulated by this procedure.

Scientists find ways to Improve Learning with Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

Many are certain that these studies will accelerate many kinds of learning. People who are paralyzed can learn to control a gloved robotic device using their thoughts. Electrodes on the person’s scalp pick up brain waves as the persons only imagines he is moving his hand. Another researcher, Dr. Witkowski, found that only 20 minutes of TDCS allowed this process to be accelerated.

These new reports suggest that there is more to speed learning produced by TDCS than we know right now. Evidence shows that this produces brain changes and causes change in the connections, as observed on MRI brain scans. By using electricity to energize the neural circuits of the cerebral cortex, scientists are hopeful that they now have found a drug-free way to enhance learning.

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