As told to Julian Sancton


A few years ago, I was talking to an admiral. He said, “Son, I get better and better equipment every year, but I get dumber and dumber guys to run it.” He wanted me to help his troops retain more of their training. The idea would be to employ training strategies to minimize the drop-off in proficiency between training sessions. That’s where we think transcranial direct-current stimulation (TDCS), the application of a low electrical current directly to the brain, may be helpful. TDCS essentially makes a piece of brain respond to a greater degree to the external stimulus. Memory is all about building connections between Structure A and Structure B in the brain, so if you can get a bigger response out of a piece of brain, you have more active tissue, and it’s easier to build those bridges between Area A and Area B. TDCS allows you to transition from the novice state to the expert state more rapidly. I do think this is a technology that will get to the public, eventually. But it isn’t like Tylenol, where you think, “My headache’s not going away, so I’ll just crank up the dosage.” I see people on the Internet jury-rigging their own TDCS devices to try to jump-start their brains. This is an extremely dangerous practice, and I have the scars to prove it. • Weisend is assistant professor of translational neuroscience at the Mind Research Network.


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