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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Brain Boost

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports that a little shock to the brain could improve your verbal skills.


CURWOOD: Just ahead: how one woman changed the face of Africa, starting with a few seedlings. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: Think fast - talk faster.

A recent experiment shows that applying a small electrical current to the front of your head for 20 minutes can give your brain the jolt it needs to juice up your verbal skills.

This may be especially good news for people who suffer from frontal temporal dementia, a brain condition that affects speech.

In the experiment conducted by researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Heath, volunteers were hooked up to a set of scalp electrodes. Researchers administered an imperceptible dose of electricity to some, while the control group received none. The volunteers were then asked to list as many words as they could which began with a particular letter.

The results: those who had received a current performed significantly better on the verbal test—naming nearly 20 percent more words—than the control group.

While researchers can’t fully explain the effect, they speculate that electrical current stimulates cells in the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for generating words.

After the current passes through this region, brain cells are able to fire off signals more rapidly, thus increasing verbal ability. Scientists hope they’ll eventually be able to use electrode therapy—which they say is harmless—in combination with drugs as a treatment for dementia. So far, the only side effect appears to be an itchy scalp. That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science. I’m Jennifer Chu.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

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