Science

Will science ever improve our ability to learn?

In Limitless, Eddie Morra, a dead end writer, swallows a pill that allows him to learn piano, write a bestseller, or successfully trade the stock market in three days. In the real world, of course, such a miracle product does not exist. Nevertheless, scientists continue to study the effects of transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) on our abilities. principle? Stimulation of certain areas of the brain with a low-intensity electrical current. “The effect is promising: in some cases, learning can be facilitated. This technique, which requires electrodes to be applied to the head, may be especially helpful for people with neurological conditions,” said Dr. Van der Groen, a researcher at Edith Cowan University in Australia. ) and lead author of a study just published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews.

Contacting L’Express, the scholar provides some examples of incentive work to back up his remarks: “A pilot study in the United Kingdom showed that tRNS can stimulate children with learning disabilities in mathematics. A recent study also showed that the Method can, in tests, improve the ability to perceive and respond in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (considered normal) the resolution of some visual exercises can be increased.”

Researchers at Edith Cowan University have also received positive results. “We found that when participants received stimulation, it improved their ability to see low-quality images or even their decision-making,” confirms Onno van der Groen.

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There are long-term changes

Scientists do not yet know how to accurately explain these results. Some studies also show that tRNS has no clear effect on memory, although it does make learning easier. But research continues. “Cognitive tasks are not performed by separate areas of the brain working in isolation, but by a network of several connected areas. By stimulating certain parts of the brain, we increase their responsiveness, thereby improving the overall process, ”suggests Dr. Van Green.

Better, the effect seems to last over time. “When we stimulate the brain for 10 minutes, we can observe long-term changes (60 minutes) in the reactivity of the stimulated area of ​​the brain. Recently, a study done on patients with cortical blindness even found effects six months after graduation! so you might think that performance could be improved over time,” explains the scientist.

But this does not open the way for large-scale exploitation. “If we want this technique to be available in the real world, there are at least two hurdles to overcome. First, tRNA is currently being studied in laboratories around the world. Before ‘ordinary’ people can’t access it, we need to better understand the mechanisms involved,” said Onno Van Der Groen.

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On the other hand, a test carried out on a person gifted with mathematics did not give a noticeable positive effect. “It seems to show that we are not going to increase our intelligence with this technique. However, tRNS can be useful in the context of busy work such as air traffic control or the defense sector,” says Onno van der Groen. . Certainly an ethical debate seems necessary. “What would be the consequences if parents, for example, started using it to improve the performance of their healthy children? And what would be the long-term effects if you applied tRNS every day, especially in children who do not yet have a mature brain?, the scientist asks.

For all these reasons, cinema will no doubt be ahead of reality for a long time to come. However, Dr. Van Groen is considering a trial that would require the kits to be sent home so that citizens can try tRNS. “The goal is to see if it can be done safely under remote supervision. In addition, the laboratory is a very controlled environment, so it will also be necessary to see if the results already achieved can be maintained in a less controlled environment.” . The electrodes are on the table next to the kit. The initiative is likely to electrify part of the population.

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