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Surprising Science

Shocking the Brain Improves Its Function

Scientists at UCLA have found that running a mild electric current through the brain's hippocampus improves memory function. The finding could contribute to Alzheimer's research.

What’s the Latest Development?

A small UCLA study has found that stimulating the brain with a mild electric current helps improve memory function. Participants in the study, who were all epilepsy patients, were asked to play a video game that uses on a complex map of an urban area (for the initiated, a variant of Crazy Taxi). By running wires into the hippocampusthe headquarters of the brain’s memory networkscientists delivered light electrical shocks. Those patients who received the shocks recalled the game’s map better than the control group, which received no shocks.

What’s the Big Idea?

In epilepsy patients, the electric current is used to disrupt the storm of energy which causes seizures. And because the UCLA study focuses on the brain’s memory regions, it could also shed light onto Alzheimer’s treatments, though to talk of a cure would be premature. The major conclusion of the study is that stimulating the brain’s memory center, by using electric shocks, improves human cognition on the whole, suggesting that already-functional individuals could boost their intelligence. The issues raises serious ethical dilemmas, say doctors.

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