Studies showing that tDCS works continue to pour in. A new study from Vanderbilt University is the latest to suggest that transcranial direct-current stimulation does in fact boost our cognitive skills. Although their press release somewhat misleadingly refers to tDCS as an “electric thinking cap“), it can affect our ability to learn, and “this effect can be enhanced or depressed depending on the direction of the current.”
Their study looked at the brain’s response to mistakes, and whether this response could be manipulated using a mild electrical current (in this case tDCS). Subjects were given a 20-minute session of electrical of stimulation, followed by a learning task that resembles Simon Says: using trial and error, the subjects had to figure out which buttons on a game controller corresponded to specific colors displayed on a monitor. Subjects who were given the tDCS stimulation “made fewer errors and learned from their mistakes more quickly than they did after the sham stimulus.”
The improvements in error rates were small, only about 4 percent, but the study’s co-author Geoffrey Woodman said that “this success rate is far better than that observed in studies of pharmaceuticals or other types of psychological therapy.” Likewise, the effects of the 20-minute stimulation session did indeed transfer to other tasks, and lasted for about five hours.