April 19, 2011 at 11:40 AM ET
Let's start with this: Don't try this at home kids. Actually, don't try this at home anybody.
In one of the more unusual video game-related studies to emerge recently, a DARPA-funded experiment has found that running electricity through your scalp can help make you a better game player.
Also, it might just improve your ability to learn and your mental sharpness in general. Then again, it might make you see funny lights and feel a burning sensation on your scalp.
Researchers at the University of New Mexico conducted the study on a group volunteers, attaching wet sponges to their right temples. Those sponges delivered two milliamps of current from a gadget powered by a 9-volt battery as the volunteers played "DARWARS Ambush!" — a video game designed to train US soldiers heading to Iraq.
According to a report in Nature News, volunteers who got the 2 milliamp "electric tickle" to the scalp showed twice as much improvement in playing the game after only a short amount of training as those receiving one-twentieth the amount of current.
The technique, called "transcranial direct-current stimulation" (tDCS), has been studied since the 1800s as a way to treat neurological conditions but has been making something of an academic come-back what with its potential ability to improve learning and cognition. Nature News reports that other studies using tDCS have shown improvements in working memory, word association and complex problem-solving.
Nature News also reports that some people have even begun trying their own experiments at home:
Discussions are already appearing on the Internet: buy a 9-volt battery, some wire and a resistor, and you're theoretically there. One person, hoping to improve his concentration, was alarmed by the flashing lights he experienced — a commonly reported side effect, along with burning or itching at the site of the electrode. "I probably won't be doing this again," he said in a message posted online.
With that, I return to the warning I started with. Don't try this at home. Seriously.
While every gamer would probably enjoy a boost to their skill level, running electric wires to your skull is probably not the safest (or most enjoyable) way to achieve that boost.
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