You’ve probably already seen the stories about new technologies that can interact with the brain using electrical currents in the media:
‘scientists can now upload information to the brain’ (not true),
“a network of human brains connected’ (misinterpreted at best),
“sniper accuracy improved with brain stimulation’ (true)
“brain stimulation found to be more effective than caffeine” (true),
‘improved creativity with brain stimulation’ (fairly true)
At the core of these stories is the concept of non-invasive neurostimulation: applying electrical micro-currents to given brain areas to induce a desired effect in the brain area. But what is neurostimulation exactly? With so many stories and articles circulating, it can be hard to fully grasp what neurostimulation is and whether it is right for you.
We are here to give you a transparent no-nonsense guide to neurostimulation, specifically tDCS.
Misconceptions about neurostimulation
1. Electroshock therapy
Often when people hear about neurostimulation, their minds jump to images of electroshock therapy, like those depicted in movies such as The One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest. But neurostimulation is radically different. Not just in the level of current used, but in the actual effect.
Electroshock therapy forces an immediate firing of all the neurons in the whole brain whereas neurostimulation only has the power to regulate the threshold for natural neuronal activity – making it easier or harder for certain neurons to fire. Think of electroshock therapy as breaking into a building and tDCS as someone opening the door for you to enter..
2. Neurostimulation will make me smarter
A question we hear often here at PlatoScience is ‘Will PlatoWork make me smarter?’. This is probably the biggest misconception about neurostimulation. In theory it may make you smarter… but only indirectly.
Neurostimulation primes your neurons to fire and therefore better connect with other neurons in the brain, it doesn’t in itself cause brain activity. tDCS primes your neurons to perform faster, but you still need to activate them by performing some kind of cognitive task.
Using tDCS and waiting for your brain to work would be like plugging in the cable to an electric guitar and expecting music to play. You still need to strum the guitar yourself, the electricity just amplifies the sound.
In the market there are lots of different technologies around, and frequently neurofeedback systems are confused with neurostimulation. The difference is that neurofeedback measures brain activity, neurostimulation directly stimulates the brain. If we compare brain activity to driving a car, neurofeedback is being able to look at your speed, neurostimulation allows you to actively accelerate or decelerate.
4. The same for everyone
Every brain is different and this ultimately means that neurostimulation works differently for every individual. Science shows that tDCS can improve brain function, but the extent of this improvement depends highly on the individual. Some see the difference first time, some after a few weeks, some on high current, some on low current. The takeaway message is that it is important to know that your neurostimulation experience may be different to others, and it may take time to work out how it can work best for you.
What is neurostimulation?
It is safe
More than 4000 peer-reviewed studies covering 100,000 stimulation sessions support the safety and efficacy of tDCS.
You may feel a tingle…
Some people feel alarmed when they first neurostimulate as they feel a tingle underneath the electrodes. This is quite normal reaction as it is the mix of the electrical current and the saltwater on your skin. However, this should in no way feel uncomfortable or painful.
Mature and researched…
Non-invasive neurostimulation, or just tDCS, has been around for more than 50 years, and for the last 20 years the number of scientific studies has exploded – at PlatoScience we currently have two full-time neuroscientists hired to keep up with the pace of the field. Visit our science page for more information.
Expanding every day
Neurostimulation as a whole is an untapped area in neuroscience. The issue is that every brain are different and the brain is very different in a lab compared to the real world.
At PlatoScience, we believe that large scale science is the only way to understand the potential of specific neurostimulation for healthy individuals. There are things we know, most importantly that the technology is safe and there is huge potential.
We want to explore neurostimulation and expand the scientific horizons with PlatoWork and our users, and we are doing this through 'Crowd Science'. Contact us today to find out more about our Crowd Science initiatives.