Medical Electric Jolt to Brain Boosts Math Skills

Stimulating the brain with a nonpainful electrical current can jump-start peoples' math skills, scientists say. The finding could lead to new, long-lasting treatments for people with moderate to severe math impairments such as dyscalculia, or "math dyslexia." This learning disability prevents a person from grasping even simple math concepts, according to study leader Roi Cohen Kadosh, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford in the U.K.

Routine brain-stimulation in people without developmental disorders would also raise ethical questions, said study leader Cohen Kadosh. For example, a normal person without a disability who stimulates his or her brain to boost math prowess might be giving themselves an unfair advantage. "Should we prevent this?" he said. "It's a dilemma, and an ethical question."

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/11/101104-electric-current-brains-math-science-health/?source=link_fb20101105brainmath
 
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In one test, participants were shown two of the symbols they had learned on a screen. One of the symbols might represent the number two and the other the number four. However, the two symbol would be intentionally bigger than the four symbol.

The researchers then asked the participants which "number" was physically larger, the 2 symbol or the 4 symbol.

People with normal mathematical abilities have trouble with this task, though very young children and people with dyscalculia don't, Cohen Kadosh explained.

That's because in normal brains, different mental processes—in this case size and evaluating numbers—interfere with one another.

When the participants' brains were electrically stimulated, their performance in the task worsened—proving that their math skills had improved.
that seems like a pretty big assumption to me. perhaps, by damaging the previously working function, it increases their ability to acquire math skills. but without actually measuring the math skills, you don't know.


this experiment makes me wonder about a lot of things. like are they enhancing function of a part of the brain, or damaging function? both at once? is math a type of autism? the math-interfering trait seems important to art and craft, tasks that may be less-valued in modern society, but seem central to our getting to this point.
 

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