Neurons. Patrick Hoesly on Flickr

With just 15 minutes of a barely perceptible electric current passed through the brain, scientists at the University of Oxford have succeeded in improving a person’s math abilities with an effect lasting as long as six months. Using a non-invasive method known as transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS), the scientists passed a mild electric current through the skull into the brain’s parietal lobe, where numbers are processed.

Patients were asked to learn new symbols to represent numbers, then, while they were on TDCS, they attempted to organize the numbers. Participants whose brains were being stimulated demonstrated an improved ability to perform the task. The amazing part is that, when tested again six months later, they retained their higher performance level. The current helps the affected nerves to fire more quickly, making it easier to learn information.

The next trials will involve patients who have lower-than-average number processing skills, and Oxford scientists hope to one day develop a device to deliver TDCS. While it may be some time before such brain-zapping is widely administered, this treatment could help the significant portion of the population (nearly 20 percent) with moderate to severe math disability, and possibly those with difficulty in other subjects as well.

* Do not zap your brain with electricity except under professional supervision.

[University of Oxford via Discovery News]