Neuroscience research has shown that electricity could help to stimulate the brain and might be helpful to rebuild neuron pathways. But recent studies out of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio suggest that creating stimulus to the brain using mild electrical currents could help to improve attention and quicken an individual’s ability to learn tasks.
The notion of using electricity to stimulate the brain began emerging heavily by neuroscientists in the 1980s using a method called trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and was found to be effective for cases of depression. After decades of research, experiments suggested that tDCS could be useful in enhancing healthy brains as well. Preliminary studies have begun on base at Wright-Patterson to see if using these same methods could enhance the cognitive abilities of airmen.
The tests consist of an airman with electrodes attached to key areas of his head watching a simulated air traffic control system over a monitor. During the exercise the soldier must identify threats and friendly targets among an escalation of air traffic. Typically the performance of the analyst declines as the duration of the task is increased and to the surprise of the research team stimulating the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is believed to influence attention skills, the performance of the analyst did not decrease over the 40 minute period of activity.
Although other studies have been conducted in the past using magnets, ultrasound and lasers to test how brain stimulation affects individuals, electricity has a number of benefits for military use. The most obvious benefit is the fact that neurons in the brain already function of electrical pulses allowing a more natural approach to stimulation. Additionally electrical devices can be manufactured for better mobility and cost effectiveness.
The military research is still in its early stages and is only being conducted on personnel on the ground but depending on the results the military is already considering the possibilities of supplying pilots with wireless caps to stimulate their brains during long flights. This would work from a sensor using electroencephalography (EEG) to provide signals to stimulate the pilot’s neurons with the existing tDCS technology.
Despite these revelations, Berhard Sehm disagrees with the military use of this neuroscience technology as it could pose hazardous. Sehm, who works as a cognitive neuroscientist in Leipzig, Germany at the Max-Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences stated that the research the military is so interested in is largely inconclusive. Regardless of the debates the U.S. Air Force has shown a great deal of interest in the possibility of using electrical brain stimulation to engineer better future soldiers that can perform with superhuman like capabilities.Tags: military research, neuroscience, neuroscientist