Zapping the brain with a mild electrical current helps people think outside the box to solve a task, an Australian research team has found.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) works by altering the activity of neurons by passing weak currents through electrodes on the scalp. It can enhance mathematical skills, memory, attention and language learning.
Richard Chi and Allan Snyder of the University of Sydney in Australia tested tDCS on study participants as an adjunct aid to solving brain-teasers. Some participants received an excitatory current over the right anterior temporal lobe of the brain and inhibitory current over the left side, while others experienced the opposite pattern or a sham treatment.
Excitation of the right hemisphere and inhibition of the left made the participants three times more likely to figure out the correct answer within 6 minutes compared with those who received the sham treatment.
The right anterior temporal lobe is known to be associated with insight and novel meaning (“outside the box”). The left right anterior temporal lobe on the other hand is involved in processing routine strategies and the maintenance of existing hypotheses (“same old same old”).
So by stimulating the right side and knocking out the old-habit control of the left side, participants were able to think laterally and solve problems quickly.
Very quickly in fact.
[Journal reference: PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016655]