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Electrical noise stimulation enhances math learning skills

Researchers have discovered that the use of electrical noise stimulation on a specific region of the brain can significantly enhance mathematical learning in individuals who find the subject challenging. 

This innovative research contributes to the growing body of knowledge surrounding neurostimulation and its impact on learning. Electric noise stimulation is a non-invasive technique that remains relatively uncharted in terms of its neurophysiological effects and subsequent impact on learning.

Brain excitation 

The team found that administering electrical noise stimulation to the frontal part of the brain enhanced the mathematical abilities of participants who had initially exhibited lower brain excitement in response to mathematics. 

Interestingly, this improvement was not observed in participants who displayed a high level of brain excitation during the initial assessment or in the placebo groups. 

The researchers theorize that the electrical noise stimulation influences the sodium channels in the brain, disrupting the cell membrane of neurons and subsequently increasing cortical excitability.

Critical role of learning 

The project was led by Roi Cohen Kadosh, a professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and head of the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey. He emphasized the critical role of learning in our daily lives. 

“Learning is key to everything we do in life – from developing new skills, such as driving a car, to learning how to code. Our brains are constantly absorbing and acquiring new knowledge,” said Professor Kadosh.

“Previously, we have shown that a person’s ability to learn is associated with neuronal excitation in their brains. What we wanted to discover in this case is if our novel stimulation protocol could boost, in other words excite, this activity and improve mathematical skills.”

How the research was conducted 

The study was focused on 102 participants, who were presented with a series of multiplication problems to measure their mathematical skills. 

The participants were then divided into four groups: a learning group subjected to high-frequency random electrical noise stimulation, an overlearning group which practiced multiplication beyond the point of mastery while exposed to high-frequency random electrical noise stimulation, and two control groups.

Electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings were taken at the onset and conclusion of the stimulation to monitor brain activity.

Study implications 

Dr. Nienke van Bueren from Radboud University, who directed this work under the supervision of Professor Cohen Kadosh, highlighted the significance of the findings. 

“These findings highlight that individuals with lower brain excitability may be more receptive to noise stimulation, leading to enhanced learning outcomes, while those with high brain excitability might not experience the same benefits in their mathematical abilities,” said Dr. van Bueren.

“What we have found is how this promising neurostimulation works and under which conditions the stimulation protocol is most effective,” said Professor Kadosh. “This discovery could not only pave the way for a more tailored approach in a person’s learning journey but also shed light on the optimal timing and duration of its application.”

The study represents a significant stride towards a more personalized approach to learning, potentially helping to optimize the application of neurostimulation techniques.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS Biology.

More about neurostimulation 

Neurostimulation refers to a set of techniques that involve direct stimulation of the nervous system, typically through electrical currents, to modify or regulate its activity. 

While these techniques have been around in various forms for decades, advances in technology and neuroscience have led to a more nuanced understanding of how neurostimulation can be effectively utilized for a range of medical and cognitive applications.


Two common types of neurostimulation are Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). 

DBS involves implanting electrodes into specific regions of the brain and has been successful in treating conditions like Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, and severe depression. 

TMS, on the other hand, is non-invasive and uses magnetic fields to induce electrical currents in targeted brain areas, and it has shown promise in treating depression and migraines, among other conditions.

Electrical noise stimulation

The study delved into an even less intrusive form of neurostimulation: electrical noise stimulation. Unlike traditional forms of stimulation, which involve consistent and directed electrical currents, electrical noise stimulation uses randomized electrical pulses. 

The randomized nature of this stimulation is thought to potentially help “reset” or optimize the functioning of neural networks, thereby boosting cognitive abilities, such as mathematical learning in this case.

Safety and ethics

Neurostimulation is not without its ethical and safety considerations. The idea of using electrical stimulation to modulate brain function naturally raises questions about long-term effects, potential misuse, and individual differences in response to treatment. 

Therefore, more rigorous and extensive studies are needed to better understand the full range of its applications, limitations, and ethical implications.

As technology and neuroscience continue to intersect and evolve, neurostimulation offers a fascinating and increasingly accessible tool for understanding the complexities of the human brain. 

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