Electroshock therapy has a pretty bad reputation, with its image in popular culture no doubt forged by films such as Clockwork Orange and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. While much of this reputation is justly earned, a recent study suggests that the application of electricity to the brain may not be all bad.
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The study suggests that a small dose of electricity, if applied at the right frequency, can boost the alpha rhythms inside our brain, which can give our creativity a jolt.
“We’ve provided the first evidence that specifically enhancing alpha oscillations is a causal trigger of a specific and complex behavior — in this case, creativity. But our goal is to use this approach to help people with neurological and psychiatric illnesses. For instance, there is strong evidence that people with depression have impaired alpha oscillations. If we could enhance these brain activity patterns, then we could potentially help many people,” the authors say.
Interestingly, however, the intervention also appears to have an impact on other aspects of mental health, such as depression.
“The fact that we’ve managed to enhance creativity in a frequency-specific way — in a carefully-done double-blinded placebo-controlled study — doesn’t mean that we can definitely treat people with depression. But if people with depression are stuck in a thought pattern and fail to appropriately engage with reality, then we think it’s possible that enhancing alpha oscillations could be a meaningful, noninvasive, and inexpensive treatment paradigm for them — similar to how it enhanced creativity in healthy participants,” the authors explain.
What are Alpha Waves?
The research has emerged due to a renewed interest in how we think about the alpha waves inside our brains. Alpha waves were originally discovered back in 1929 by Hans Verger, and are believed to be most prominent when we’re able to shut out any external stimuli. Shutting our eyes, for instance, is a great way to boost our alpha waves.
“For a long time, people thought alpha waves represented the brain idling. But over the past 20 years we’ve developed much better insight. Our brains are not wasting energy, creating these patterns for nothing. When the brain is decoupled from the environment, it still does important things,” the authors say.
To test whether this has the capability to treat depression, the researchers placed electrodes over the frontal cortex part of the brain. The results revealed that we were much more creative when we received a current to the brain at a frequency of 10 Hertz.
“Using 40 Hertz, we saw no effect on creativity. The effect we saw was specific to the 10-hertz alpha oscillations. There’s no statistical trickery. You just have to look at each participant’s test to see these effects,” the researchers write.
The Impact on Depression
Whilst the boost to our creative potential is certainly interesting, the researchers were actually on the hunt for better treatments for depression, and they believe that their findings can have a big impact for those for whom existing medications are either not working very well or are delivering negative side effects.
Suffice to say, it seems unlikely that electrodes are going to be fitted to a workplace anytime soon to deliver these kind of creativity boosts. However, there are a number of personal devices to deliver electrodes to various parts of the body, with a growing number of headset based devices to check your brainwaves for things like sleep monitoring and the like. It would not be a huge surprise, therefore, to see the trend develop and become a more common practice. It’s certainly something to keep an eye out for.
As with any new technology, however, it is likely to require a significant amount of work by early adopters before it ever hits the mainstream, especially with such popular stigma attached to EEG systems.
Do you think that this is a good option for improving your creativity? Would you be willing to try it out yourself? Your thoughts and comments below please...