Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation: The Ethics of Brain Boosting

January 30, 2012



Prominent Oxford neuroscientists are teaming up with ethicists to consider the issues raised by brain stimulating techniques. They recently spoke on BBC’s Radio 4 morning program to have a discussion. The most promising stimulation, called transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) can be used to improve language, math, memory, problem solving, attention span, and even movement.

transcranial-direct-current-stimulationThe technology won’t just help restore mental functions to those with impaired abilities, TDCS can also be used to enhance the mental abilities of healthy people. TDCS places electrodes on the outside of the patients’ heads to pass tiny electrical currents across the regions of the brain for 20 minutes. The currents of 1-2mA make it easier for the neurons to fire, which could lead to strengthening the connections involved in learning and memory.

Experimentally, the researchers have discovered that the techniques are painless and safe. Also, the effects might be long lasting. Researchers have outlined their concerns in a short paper in Current Biology (PDF).

The resulting effects could be good, but the technology could have unpredictable side effects. While the researchers don’t think that brain boosting is cheating, if it’s not available to all, it will become so. Unlike drugs, which are prescribed to specific individuals, a TDCS device could be used by many different people.

[via Oxford University, images by The Upcoming]

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