VIDEO: Researchers show brain stimulation could enable accelerated learning

03/07/2016 - 20:03

Michele Durant

It's a case of life imitating art. Much as the sci-fi film "The Matrix" depicted a device capable of enhancing skill acquisition, researchers at HRL Laboratories, LLC, have discovered that low-current electrical brain stimulation can modulate the learning of complex real-world skills.

Dr. Matthew Phillips and his team of investigators from HRL's Information & System Sciences Laboratory used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in order to improve learning and skill retention.



Ref: Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Modulates Neuronal Activity and Learning in Pilot Training. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (9 February 2016) | DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00034 (Open Access)


Skill acquisition requires distributed learning both within (online) and across (offline) days to consolidate experiences into newly learned abilities. In particular, piloting an aircraft requires skills developed from extensive training and practice. Here, we tested the hypothesis that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can modulate neuronal function to improve skill learning and performance during flight simulator training of aircraft landing procedures. Thirty-two right-handed participants consented to participate in four consecutive daily sessions of flight simulation training and received sham or anodal high-definition-tDCS to the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) or left motor cortex (M1) in a randomized, double-blind experiment. Continuous electroencephalography (EEG) and functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) were collected during flight simulation, n-back working memory, and resting-state assessments. tDCS of the right DLPFC increased midline-frontal theta-band activity in flight and n-back working memory training, confirming tDCS-related modulation of brain processes involved in executive function. This modulation corresponded to a significantly different online and offline learning rates for working memory accuracy and decreased inter-subject behavioral variability in flight and n-back tasks in the DLPFC stimulation group. Additionally, tDCS of left M1 increased parietal alpha power during flight tasks and tDCS to the right DLPFC increased midline frontal theta-band power during n-back and flight tasks. These results demonstrate a modulation of group variance in skill acquisition through an increasing in learned skill consistency in cognitive and real-world tasks with tDCS. Further, tDCS performance improvements corresponded to changes in electrophysiological and blood-oxygenation activity of the DLPFC and motor cortices, providing a stronger link between modulated neuronal function and behavior.