June 15, 2011
Electric Current Controls Impulsivity

If you want to turn down your impulses an electrical current will do the trick.

London, 15 June 2011 - Inhibitory control can be boosted with a mild form of brain stimulation, according to a study published in the June 2011 issue of Neuroimage, Elsevier's Journal of Brain Function. The study's findings indicate that non-invasive intervention can greatly improve patients' inhibitory control. Conducted by a research team led by Dr Chi-Hung Juan of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, National Central University in Taiwan, the research was sponsored by the National Science Council in Taiwan, the UK Medical Research Council, the Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award, and a Fulbright Award.

This is like some science fiction novel. Imagine a young Jack Nicholson rendered calm and passive by a cap he can't remove. Would he jump into a lake to short out the hat so he can go on a rampage?

Imagine a dangerous impulsive person let out of jail on parole on the condition that they'll have a device strapped to their head that delivers a mild electrical current to their scalp. Would you favor or oppose parole conditioned on electrical controls that restrain a felon's brain?

The study demonstrates that when a weak electrical current is applied over the front of participants' scalps for ten minutes, it greatly improved their ability to process responses effectively jumpstarting the brain's ability to control impulsivity. The treatment has the potential to serve as a non invasive treatment for patients with conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette's syndrome, drug addictions, or violent impulsivity.

Professor Chi-Hung Juan who led the research team noted, "The findings that electrical stimulation to the brain can improve control of their behavioral urges not only provide further understanding of the neural basis of inhibitory control but also suggest a possible therapeutic intervention method for clinical populations, such as those with drug additions or ADHD, in the future".

Do you have attention deficit? Too hyperactive? Would you want to wear an electrical stimulator device that would calm you down?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 June 15 08:02 PM  Brain Free Will

bbartlog said at June 16, 2011 5:53 AM:

I would be curious (and somewhat skeptical) about the longer-term effectiveness of this treatment. The self control that is being boosted here is subject to (temporary) depletion. I can imagine both a medium-term drop to baseline or below (after a few hours, like crashing from speed), or a longer-term habituation effect where the brain returns to some sort of setpoint despite the treatment (and woe if you remove it then!). All that said, if it turns out to be effective over the longer term, it seems like a good idea to allow certain convicts the option. Let them try it out and then if they want to get out they get an implant (like a pacemaker, not a removable and unreliable cap). But keep in mind there are plenty of criminal pathologies that don't involve poor impulse control.

Brett Bellmore said at June 16, 2011 3:29 PM:

Does the treatment in question give people practice in stopping to think before they act, thereby improving their behavior without it in the long run? Or does it actually degrade their inborn capacity to do that, like wearing a brace can weaken a joint?

I could see it working either way. Perhaps what we really need is an implant that detects the exercise of impulse control, and immediately rewards it, training the brain to continue doing it.

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