Move over coffee, humanity may soon have a new favorite pick-me-up. Scientists are developing brain-tinkering technologies that can not only make us more alert but fundamentally alter how we think, feel and behave. In the next few years new devices could accelerate thinking skills, improve all manner of abilities and possibly even counteract negative behaviors.
And we want to know your number-one wish for brain enhancement, too—click the "Participate" button below to be part of our survey. Your thoughts could appear in the next print issue of Scientific American MIND.
Neuroscientists have already demonstrated that stimulating the brain with electric current could make us quicker learners. In 2013 a team of researchers at the University of Oxford, University College London and Innsbruck Medical University in Austria found that stimulating certain brain areas with pulses of weak electric current could improve math skills. For five days the scientists asked 25 students to spend some time memorizing a series of calculations. Of these subjects, 13 students reviewed the problems while receiving 20 minutes of electric pulses over the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in mathematical ability. The researchers discovered that subjects who had received stimulation were significantly faster at mastering math problems than their nonstimulated peers.
Although a small study, the results are part of a larger wave of findings that hint how electricity can boost many different cognitive domains. Other work hints that similar techniques can get creative juices flowing, improve attention and focus or help people master new languages faster.
Other technologies could expand our ability to store and retrieve memories. Working with rodents, researchers at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and Wake Forest University have demonstrated that surgically embedded neural implants could help the brain form long-term memories. An approach such as this could bolster our powers of recollection or help patients with debilitating brain disorders.
In light of the excitement surrounding these possible breakthroughs, Scientific American MIND wants to know which aspect of your brain you would upgrade, if you could choose any one enhancement. Use your imagination—today’s sci-fi may be tomorrow’s reality! Submit your thoughts via the widget above by August 28 and your ideas could be selected to appear in the print edition of MIND or featured on the Web.
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