According to a Nature story:

Connecting a battery across the front of the head can boost verbal skills, says a team from the US National Institutes of Health.
A current of two thousandths of an ampere (a fraction of that needed to power a digital watch) applied for 20 minutes is enough to produce a significant improvement, according to data presented this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held in San Diego. And apart from an itchy sensation around the scalp electrode, subjects in the trials reported no side-effects…
The volunteers were asked to name as many words as possible beginning with a particular letter. Given around 90 seconds, most people get around 20 words. But when Iyer administered the current, her volunteers were able to name around 20% more words than controls, who had the electrodes attached but no current delivered. A smaller current of one thousandth of an amp had no effect.
Iyer says more work needs to be done to explain the effect, but she speculates that the current changes the electrical properties of brain cells in the prefrontal cortex, the brain region through which it passes. She believes that the cells fire off signals more easily after the current has gone by. That would make the brain area, a region involved in word generation, generally more active, she suggests.

Very interesting, but I think I’ll stick to my unaided verbality, thanks. (A tip of the hat to Songdog for the link.)


  1. I’d love to see a long-term study to see if the brain gets used to the stimulation and comes to depend on it to produce normal results (ie the subject becomes less intelligent than before after the batteries are removed).

  2. Why that reminds me of the school biology lab experiment with applying current to the dead frog legs?
    Muscles contract but the spirit has left the premises…

  3. Maybe they could make some kind of device, sort of a “hat” that would provide such an electric current to students studying a foreign language. Let’s see. What might we call such a device? Somehow I just can’t think of a name. Maybe if I was wearing such a “language hat” I would be able to think of one!?

  4. Here’s the clinical study protocol, describing the experiments and who was selected for the trial. (No lefties!) You will also want to read the safety considerations citation before trying this at home. Don’t get out the jumper cables yet.

  5. Richard Hershberger says

    Ooh! Ooh! Let’s add to this “language hat” a couple of holders for beer cans and a drinking tube! Or would that defeat the purpose?

  6. /* places battery on head */
    Ow. Ouch. That hurts. Indeed, these coruscating electrical volleys across my prefrontal cortex are not unlike living tongues of flame belched forth from the very gates of hell! Luigi Galvani and Dante Alighieri, conspiring in some dystopic electrico-eschatological italic cabal, could not have dreamt of such torment! O, perfidy! Fie on your research! Unleash me this moment!
    /* removes battery */
    Whew. That’s better.

  7. And there you have Flowers for Algernon boiled down to a few sentences, with electricity taking the place of tragedy.
    I want royalties on this “language hat,” dammit.

Speak Your Mind