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"Random noise" may provide a new path to faster learning

Researchers at Edith Cowan University (ECU) have recently discovered that noise may help enhance learning for some people. More specifically, the experts explored the effects of transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS) in several situations.

Transcranial random noise stimulation is not what we typically think of as noise. Impulses come from electrodes attached to the head, emitting a weak current that passes through certain sections of the brain. 

Study lead author Dr. Onno van der Groen explained the potential benefits of tRNS: “The effect on learning is promising: it can speed up learning and help people with neurological conditions. So, people with learning difficulties you can use it to enhance learning rate, for example.”

“It’s also been trialed on people with visual deficits, such as after stroke and traumatic brain injury. When you add this type of stimulation during learning, you get better performance, faster learning and better attention afterwards as well.”

Dr. van der Groen said that tRNS works by utilizing neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to make new connections. “If you learn something, there has to be neuroplastic changes in your brain, which allows you to learn this information. And this is a tool to enhance this neuroplasticity.”

“If you do 10 sessions of a visual perception task with the tRNS and then come back and do it again without it, you’ll find you perform better than the control group who hasn’t used it.”

However, transcranial random noise stimulation won’t create a “new level” of intelligence. “The question is, if you’re neurotypical, are you already performing at your peak,” said Dr. Van der Groen.

“There’s a case study where they tried to enhance the mathematical skills of a super mathematician; with him, it didn’t have much of an impact on his performance, presumably because he is already a top performer in that area. But it could be used if you’re learning something new.”

Although research is still in the beginning stages, Dr. van der Groen feels that due to its safety, more research will be conducted in the future to explore the medical benefits of this new technology. 

“We’re working on a study where we send the equipment to people, and they apply everything themselves remotely. So in that regards, it’s quite easy to use.”

The research is published in the journal Neuroscience.

By Erin Moody , Staff Writer

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