TDCS: Amazing Brain-Boosting Technology or Just the Latest Fad?

Can TDCS Improve Memory?

Does TDCS Really Work?

I’ve been hearing whispers about TDCS or Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and related TMS Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for a while now, but only recently decided to do some digging.  The premise is that a small amount of electrical or magnetic stimulation can enhance or reduce  the ability of neurons to fire (depending on the polarity).  The premise seems plausible as neurons fire in response to tiny changes in the potential across neuronal membranes.  There is no shortage of press on the subject.  Some good ones include this article in Nature and another one in Wired.  Amazingly, peer-reviewed papers back up the fact that TDCS can have a biological effect on people.    A fantastic and highly entertaining introduction to TDCS can be heard on the podcast RadioLab.

The technology is almost stupidly simple and this might be its greatest strength and weakness.  Basically a TDCS device consists of a 9-volt battery, a variable resistor and some electrodes.  People connect the electrodes to various parts of the scalp, face or body and and get a small zap (~1m amp) for about 20 minutes.  Users know the machine is on due to a tingling sensation and sometimes a metallic taste in their mouths.  Supposedly, depending on the placement of the electrodes different neuronal clusters can be stimulated or repressed.  What is really interesting is that people feel a bit different even after stopping TDCS and this might be due to a increase in certain neuronal receptors (like the same ones that respond to drugs like PCP and ketamine).  Anecdotal evidence suggests that TDCS is relatively safe with skin irritation and seeing a flash of light depending on where the electrode is placed, being reported, but no long-terms studies have been done.

Because the technology is so accessible almost anyone can build or buy a machine.  However this leads to many different machines, protocols voltages, electrode types and placements.  This means it is quite difficult for one person to compare data with another.

There are claims that the technology can help people with chronic pain, depression and even improve memory, but more on that later.  TDCS it is far from a proven technology.  Proving that something like this works in conditions that are highly susceptible to the placebo effect can be challenging, but results are promising and I know of at least 1 start-up attempting clinical trials with this kind of technology.

It will be amazing if this technology is proven to work as there is some evidence that it can improve reaction speed, reading ability and even creativity.  I may try to build a simple machine and will share my results on the blog if I do.  Of course for those people who are hesitant to use an unproven technology especially when it includes electrically altering your brain there is always Think Gum.  As you know, a peer-reviewed study demonstrated that Think Gum improved memory by over 25%.  We’ll have to see how TDCS stacks up.

Sleep Your Way to Good Grades

This is not effective studying

This is not effective studying

A discussion paper from a group in Belgium looked at 621 first-year university students and showed that students who slept more also got better grades.  The results were dramatic with the best sleepers scoring nearly 9% better than the worst sleepers.  To be fair, it is unclear whether being well-rested is leading to better marks or if better students simply sleep more and pull all-nighters less frequently.  Both are likely true.  Being well-rested let’s you focus at the task at hand.  It is also true that well-prepared students feel like they can sleep more without having to stay up late cramming for exams.

I think everyone can agree that sleep is critical to being sharp.  Instead of staying up all night cramming and going straight into a test, let me recommend the following;   Spend some of that time being an effective studier by chewing a piece of Think Gum while you study.  Go to sleep at a reasonable time and wake up early and get that last bit of studying in.  Don’t forget to take a couple of minutes to eat something for breakfast and then go into your exam rested and prepared.  Chewing a piece of Think Gum during your exam will help with recall of all the facts and figures you just crammed in.

ADHD Expert Loves Think Gum

Think Gum recommended by ADHD expert

Think Gum recommended by ADHD expert

Leslie Josel, ADHD expert, mother and organization guru loves Think Gum.  I got a chance to demo Think Gum for Leslie at a trade show and she was impressed.  As she wrote in her popular blog ” Can chewing gum really boost brain-power, concentration, and memory? Think Gum® sure can! Made with proven brain-boosting  herbs and herbal extracts, potent antioxidants, and natural occurring  caffeine, Think Gum has been proven to enhance mental performance  and it has the research to prove it.  A study conducted published in the Journal of Appetite demonstrates that Think Gum can be used to improve aspects of memory!   As you can expect, college and high school students LOVE this stuff.  Think Gum® was designed to help students make the most of their  education without using processed chemicals. Plain chewing gum is  already known to help focus and reduce stress, but when combined  with herbal additives shown to improve cognitive function, Think  Gum® truly is an effective study aid. Many students attribute Think  Gum® to their improved performance, alertness, concentration… Time to get chewing.  For more information and purchasing info visit:  www.thinkgum.com

Thanks Leslie!

Think Gum on PCWorld.com

Playing Halo all Night has never been more fun

Playing Halo all Night has never been more fun

Think Gum was featured on PCWorld.com as one of the more interesting things at the recent Neurogaming Conference in SF.  Think Gum is great for gamers who need to stay sharp!

Take Notes by Hand for Better Long-Term Comprehension

This is a photo of a student taking notes by hand.

Put away your laptop and start taking notes!

Think Gum isn’t the only way to boost comprehension in class.  A new study published in the journal Psychological Scienceshows that taking notes by hand is better than taking notes on a laptop for remembering conceptual information over the long term.

A summary from PsycologicalSceince.org is below:

Walk into any university lecture hall and you’re likely to see row upon row of students sitting behind glowing laptop screens. Laptops in class have been controversial, due mostly to the many opportunities for distraction that they provide (online shopping, browsing Reddit, or playing solitaire, just to name a few). But few studies have examined how effective laptops are for the students who diligently take notes.

“Our new findings suggest that even when laptops are used as intended — and not for buying things on Amazon during class — they may still be harming academic performance,” says psychological scientist Pam Mueller of Princeton University, lead author of the study.

Mueller was prompted to investigate the question after her own experience of switching from laptop to pen and paper as a graduate teaching assistant:

“I felt like I’d gotten so much more out of the lecture that day,” says Mueller, who was working with psychology researcher Daniel Oppenheimer at the time. “Danny said that he’d had a related experience in a faculty meeting: He was taking notes on his computer, and looked up and realized that he had no idea what the person was actually talking about.”

Mueller and Oppenheimer, who is now at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, conducted a series of studies to investigate whether their intuitions about laptop and longhand note-taking were true.

In the first study, 65 college students watched one of five TED Talks covering topics that were interesting but not common knowledge. The students, who watched the talks in small groups, were either given laptops (disconnected from Internet) or notebooks, and were told to use whatever strategy they normally used to take notes.

The students then completed three distractor tasks, including a taxing working memory task. A full 30 minutes later, they had to answer factual-recall questions (e.g., “Approximately how many years ago did the Indus civilization exist?”) and conceptual-application questions (e.g., “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?”) based on the lecture they had watched.

The results revealed that while the two types of note-takers performed equally well on questions that involved recalling facts, laptop note-takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions.

The notes from laptop users contained more words and more verbatim overlap with the lecture, compared to the notes that were written by hand. Overall, students who took more notes performed better, but so did those who had less verbatim overlap, suggesting that the benefit of having more content is canceled out by “mindless transcription.”

“It may be that longhand note takers engage in more processing than laptop note takers, thus selecting more important information to include in their notes, which enables them to study this content more efficiently,” the researchers write.

Surprisingly, the researchers saw similar results even when they explicitly instructed the students to avoid taking verbatim notes, suggesting that the urge to do so when typing is hard to overcome.

The researchers also found that longhand note takers still beat laptop note takers on recall one week later when participants were given a chance to review their notes before taking the recall test. Once again, the amount of verbatim overlap was associated with worse performance on conceptual items.

“I don’t anticipate that we’ll get a mass of people switching back to notebooks,” says Mueller, “but there are several new stylus technologies out there, and those may be the way to go to have an electronic record of one’s notes, while also having the benefit of being forced to process information as it comes in, rather than mindlessly transcribing it.”

“Ultimately, the take-home message is that people should be more aware of how they are choosing to take notes, both in terms of the medium and the strategy,” Mueller concludes.

Think Gum is Sponsoring the 2014 Neurogaming Conference

Here is a summary of what attendees can expect in addition to some free Brain-Boosting Chewing Gum

Neurogaming is still a new area, but it will become massive over the next decade as technology becomes more integrated into all aspects of our lives.  Neurogaming is the use of new technology that makes game play more in tune with our senses.  Some examples are already commonplace like brain-training games that use standard computers or smartphones to help improve memory or concentration.  Others still seem pretty advanced even though they have been around for nearly 5-years, like the use of sensors that use direct neural feedback in the form of brain waves for the creation of more engaging games.  The best example of this sensor based technology is displayed by the Star Wars game that allows you to “use the force” by focusing on objects and make them move with your mind.  As cool as that is, the example creating the biggest buzz this year has got to be Occulus Rift.  This innovative kickstarter-backed virtual reality gaming company was just acquired by Facebook for billions to gain access to what is the most sophisticated VR platform around.  Their platform basically opens the door to a holodeck like gaming experience where you will actually feel like you are in a different environment.  The headset moves the “screen” when you move you head or look around giving you a 360 degree look from within a game.

We are happy to sponsor this group of futurists, gamers, hackers and neurosciences at the 2014 Neurogaming Conference which will be held at the Metreon on May 7th-8th in San Francisco.  Tickets are still available and they have a great line-up of speakers including Palmer Lucky the founder of Oculus VR the makers of Oculus Rift.  Happy chewing neurogaming developers!  We’d love to work directly with any of this innovative companies so don’t be shy about reaching out.

 

Elite Colleges Getting Even More Competitive

Reading Applications at Stanford....Good Luck

Reading Applications at Stanford….Good Luck

Competition for a spot at an elite college like Stanford or Harvard is getting even more intense.  This year Stanford admitted fewer than 5% of applicants according to an article in the New York Times.

What can applicants do to set themselves apart?  I was on the admissions committee for two years while at Stanford for my PhD.  After reading hundreds of application, I have some tips to share.

1.  First off, applicants need to have great grades and standardized test scores.  19/20 students will get rejected, so every SAT point and GPA decimal matters.  You can be an interesting person, but so is everyone else applying.   You MUST have top scores and grades!  Chewing Think Gum can help students improve performance to get those scores as high as they can be.  In a peer-reviewed study, students (Stanford students actually) were able to remember 25% more.  There is your leg up on the competition!

2.  You need to be passionate about something.  It really doesn’t matter what, but it needs to be genuine and it really needs to come through in an application.  It becomes clear very quickly whether your passion is real or just made up for an application.  If you are passionate about something it should show in all parts of your application.  For example, I love fly-fishing.  I didn’t just write an essay about it.  I worked at a fishing store, I traveled the country in search of monster trout and I was a member of a local fly-fishing club.  You can’t make it up, so if you don’t have that one passion, you really better have killer scores (maybe buy a whole case of Think Gum?).

3.  Being well-rounded is great, but you need to have something that makes you memorable to readers of your application.  Your essay is really important and only takes a couple of days compared your 4 years in high school.  Don’t be cliche.  These readers see thousands of essays.  They are looking for genuine material about what makes you you.  Be funny and honest.  Make your essay easy to read.  Don’t make any typos.  Have at least 2 people read you application.  Appeal to the school.  Find 3 distinct reasons why you want to go to the school to which you are applying and make them clear.  Great faculty, beautiful campus and location are not reasons.  Is there a particular faculty member or class you have heard about?  Is there access to special equipment only available at this school and no other? Spend an hour doing some research, it will pay off.

To all the prospective students just remember it is a numbers game.  There are lots of qualified students and just a few spots at top schools.  Even the brightest students will get rejected from many schools.  Don’t take it personally and know you will need to apply to more schools than you might think.

 

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