What stimulate online college math courses
Will electrical brain stimulation soon help children learn?
Jack * tortured himself in mainstream school. He has dyslexia and the mathematical equivalent of the disorder, dyscalculia; Reading and arithmetic give him difficulties. He often misbehaved in class, playing the class clown. Jack's parents were all the more relieved when the boy was offered a place at the Fairley House School in London, which specializes in helping children with learning difficulties. Fairley may also be the first school in the world to offer its students the opportunity to undergo electrical brain stimulation.
The stimulation took place as part of an experiment in which twelve eight to ten year old children, including Jack, were given a cap with electrodes while they were playing a video game. University of Oxford neuroscientist Roi Cohen Kadosh, who led the pilot study in 2013, is one of just a handful of scientists in the world who are investigating whether small, specific areas in children's brains can be stimulated in safe conditions to so to overcome learning difficulties. "It would be great if we could understand how to stimulate children's brains in effective doses. That would allow us to be one step ahead of developmental conditions before they even hinder students in learning," says psychologist Nick Davis of Swansea University in the UK .
This article is included in Spectrum - The Week, 44/2015
The idea of using magnets or electrical currents to treat mental illnesses or learning disorders - or simply to improve one's thinking skills - has caused a lot of excitement over the past ten years. The technology activates neural circuits or makes it easier for nerve cells to fire. Research is still in its infancy, but at least 10,000 adults have had their brains stimulated in this way. The process seems safe - at least in the short term. A variant of the technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has even been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as a therapy for migraines and depression.
Children could benefit more from brain stimulation
In the meantime, however, there is also increasing interest in the question of whether children could benefit much more from such procedures. In this context, the cheaper and more transportable cousin of TMS, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), appears particularly promising.
Researchers say that stimulation can go deeper in children because their skulls are thinner than adults, and that it may have a greater impact on growing brains. The same factors that make brain stimulation particularly attractive to children also raise concerns. "It's like building a house: if you have the impression that something is going wrong, it is much easier to fix things right at the beginning. But the likelihood is also greater that you will break something," says Cohen Kadosh. "We don't know how electrical stimulation interacts with the developing brain."
"It's like building a house: if you have the impression that something is going wrong, it is much easier to fix things right at the beginning. But the probability is also greater that you break something" (Roi Cohen Kadosh)
Cohen Kadosh is also concerned about technology abuse. Even if devices that are intended for medical treatment have to meet certain safety standards, there are currently no laws in Europe or in the USA that regulate the use of tDCS by people who just hope that it will help their thinking abilities can. Companies are currently even selling tDCS headsets on the Internet. Parents could therefore be tempted to try themselves with such devices to push the cognitive abilities of their children, outside of controlled conditions in the laboratory. After Cohen Kadosh had weighed the pros and cons, he nevertheless decided to approach Fairley House with an idea for an experiment. He also had to seek ethical approval for his experiment, which was granted to him. "We were very concerned about the brain stimulation because as a school we didn't know anything about it. But we were reassured about its ethics and safety," says Jenny Lim, who works as an occupational therapist with the children at the school.
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