tdcs-alzheimersThe benefits of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) continue to expand. In addition to the well-known cognitive enhancing effects, recent research has also shown that tDCS can help with depression, schizophrenia, weight loss, and much more.

Now a new study just published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience shows that tDCS also improves cognition in Alzheimer’s patients [update: full PDF available here].

A group of 34 patients suffering from Alzheimer’s were given a daily treatment of tDCS for 25 minutes, over a period of ten days. Some received “real” tDCS, while others were given a sham version for control purposes.

The patients’ IQs were also tested at the beginning of the treatment, and then again one and two months after the end of the sessions.

There were “significant” improvements in the IQ scores of patients who underwent the real tDCS treatment, and no such improvements in the sham group.

The researchers concluded that repeated sessions of tDCS can improve cognitive function. In the near future, electrical stimulation of this kind may largely replace the need for traditional medicine to treat conditions such as Alzheimer’s. In fact, the latest issue of Scientific American Mind has an article about that very topic.


non-invasive-tdcsAre popular forms of electrical brain stimulation like tDCS and tACS really as “non-invasive” as they’re often claimed to be?

In a study published in December Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, Nick Davis and Martijn van Koningsbruggen suggest that using the term “non-invasive” to describe interventions like tDCS is “inappropriate and perhaps oxymoronic,” as it obscures the possible side-effects and long-term effects that brain stimulation might lead to.

“We argue that the traditional definition of an invasive procedure, one which requires an incision or insertion in the body, should be re-examined.”

Davis and Van Koningsbruggen suggest that the term “non-invasive brain stimulation” might lead some non-expert users of electrical brain stimulation to believe “that the effect of the technique is necessarily mild.”

Gamma-knife radiotherapy, they write, “is also ‘non-invasive’ in the sense that no incisions or insertions are made in the person…”

They also remind researchers to “be mindful that in a climate of wide and open dissemination of scientific results, exciting, and beneficial results will reach well beyond the labs and clinics,” for example here and here.



kindergarten-boosts-iqA new study (PDF) conducted by researchers at Iran’s Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences has found that kindergarten boosts IQ by about three points.

The researchers first controlled for factors such as socioeconomic background and parental education. The study excluded children with mental disorders or other factors that might impair their cognitive skills.

The (smallish) sample of consisted of 60 children; 30 had been to kindergarten, and 30 had not. Based on the results of the WISC–III IQ test, the kindergarten group had a mean IQ of 101, compared to a mean of 98 in the second group.

“This suggests that preschool training programs may improve IQ in children,” write the authors. This is consistent with previous studies showing that “kindergarten training has positive influences on children’s intellectual performance.”

“Studies describe the genes as being in a dynamic relationship with environmental influences that can turn a gene on or off, affecting the brain’s development,” they write. “Therefore kindergarten training as an environmental factor may interact with genes to determine the intellectual function of children.”

The "Internet IQ Evaluation Algorithm"

The “Internet IQ Evaluation Algorithm”

A new study from China has attempted to rank search engines by IQ, based on how well they answer a series of questions that typically appear on IQ tests.

The study, published in the Elsevier journal Procedia Computer Science, was presented in June at a conference in Russia.

The researchers tried out their new “search engine IQ test” on Google, Bing, and five popular Chinese search sites, and also gave the same test to three groups of children aged 6, 12, and 18.

Their test, which was written in Chinese, gave Google (in this case a slightly higher IQ than Bing, because it did better at translating and calculating. In the overall results, the highest IQ was achieved by, followed by Baidu, Sogou, Google, Bing, Panguso, and Zhongsou.

The questions included common knowledge (“Which planet is the largest in the solar system?”) and basic arithmetic (“How much is 25 multiplied by 4″)? The search engines also had to rank a series of numbers from smallest to largest, and choose which word is out of place in the set “snake, tree, tiger, dog, rabbit.” They were also asked “How much is 1 + 1?” and told to answer in the form of text, audio, and image.

But none of the search engines came anywhere close to a 6-year-old child in terms of reasoning ability. The search engines outperformed humans in common knowledge, translation, and calculations, but did poorly in discovering patterns and making speculations.

For example, the engines were stumped when confronted with “20/5=4, 40/10=4, 80/20=4, 160/40=4: observe the rules, then design the fifth question,” or “If there are many animals in one place, but they are all in cages and many people are looking, then where is it?”

“The current abilities of search engines in these areas,” wrote the researchers, is “close to zero.”

Their research was partially in response to claims about artificial intelligence soon surpassing the human kind. Though that oft-prophesied moment of singularity has yet to arrive, the researchers hope their test will help chart the Internet’s intellectual development over time, and show how quickly (or slowly) the gap between human and machine intelligence is closing.

They admit that their test is still in the early stages, and thus imperfect. The main reason that Baidu outperformed Google, for example, was because Baidu has certain image-recognition features that the American search engines do not, which meant Bing and Google automatically failed some parts of the test.

“This is an ongoing research project,” wrote lead author Feng Liu, “which opens a door for us to predict how the future Internet will affect our society. We will report more systematic results in the near future.”


smart monkeyVia EurekAlert:

Chimpanzee intelligence is largely determined by its genes, and environmental factors may be less important than previously thought.

“Intelligence runs in families,” said Dr. William Hopkins.

“The suggestion here is that genes play a really important role in their performance on tasks while non-genetic factors didn’t seem to explain a lot. So that’s new.”

“Studies have shown that human intelligence is inherited through genes, but social and environmental factors … are somewhat confounded with genetic factors. Chimpanzees, which are highly intelligent and genetically similar to humans, do not have these additional socio-cultural influences.”