Oxford University has worked out that the secret to getting your brain to add up numbers properly is to give it a jolt of electricity.
Roi Cohen Kadosh told the Wall Street Journal that he is testing a treatment where he puts a low-dose electric current through the brains of adults and children as young as eight to make them better at sums. This is remarkably like the experiment I tried involving a fork and an electric socket when I was four, however it seemed to have a reverse effect on me and numbers.
Kadosh, whose name means holy, has found that transcranial electrical stimulation may help people learn and improve their understanding of maths concepts. Even if it does not, we would have thought that zapping people would be fun.
He found that he could temporarily turn off regions of the brain known to be important for cognitive skills. When the parietal lobe of the brain was stimulated using that technique, he found that the basic arithmetic skills of doctoral students who were normally very good with numbers were reduced to a level similar to those with developmental dyscalculia.
His method involves placing electrodes are placed in a tightly fitted cap and worn around the head. The device, run off a nine volt battery commonly used in smoke detectors, induces only a gentle current and can be targeted to specific areas of the brain or applied generally. The mild current reduces the risk of side effects, such as hair and skin catching fire.
Other boffins also are investigating its use to treat mood disorders and other conditions. Nothing cheers up depressives faster than knowing that they are going to get zapped if they don't start smiling.
Kadosh dealt with public concerns about safety and side effects, plus skepticism from other scientists about whether these findings would hold in the wider population.
His problem has been that companies in the US have been selling the device and marketing it as a learning tool which has led to over protective American mothers zapping their precious snowflakes so that they can be more intelligent.