University of Vanderbilt psychologist Robert Reinhart, a Ph.D. candidate, and Geoffrey Woodman, assistant professor of psychology, have shown that it is possible to selectively manipulate our ability to learn through the application of a mild electrical current to the brain and that this effect can be enhanced or depressed depending on the direction of the current.

The medial-frontal cortex is believed to be the part of the brain responsible for the instinctive ‘Oops!’ response we have when we make a mistake.

Previous studies have shown that a spike of negative voltage originates from this area of the brain milliseconds after a person makes a mistake, but not why. Reinhart and Woodman wanted to test the idea that this activity influences learning, because it allows the brain to learn from our mistakes.

"And that's what we set out to test: What is the actual function of these brainwaves?" Reinhart said. "We wanted to reach into your brain and causally control your inner critic," he said.

The implications of the findings extend beyond the potential to improve learning. It may also have clinical benefits in the treatment of conditions like schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which are associated with performance-monitoring deficits.


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