Shocking Your Brain And Making Yourself Smarter


Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation – or tDCS – is the technique of applying electrodes to the skull and running a small but perceptible current through them. It’s not much current – usually on the order of 1 or 2 mA, but the effect of either increasing or decreasing neural activity has led to some interesting studies. [Theo] over on Instructables wrote a tutorial for making his own tDCS suppy that will supply 2 mA to electrodes placed on the skull for everyone to experiment with.

The basic idea behind tDCS is to put the positive electrode over the part of the brain to be excited or the negative electrode over the part of the brain to be inhibited. This is a well-studied technique that can be used to improve mathematical ability. It’s not electroshock therapy (although that is a valid treatment for depression and schizophrenia) in that a seizure is induced; tDCS just applies a small current to specific areas of the brain to excite or inhibit function.

[Theo]’s device is a simple circuit made of a transistor, resistors, and a few diodes to provide about 2 mA to a pair of electrical contacts. With this circuit and a few gel electrode pads for your head, you too can experiment with direct current stimulation of your brain.

Of course we need to warn you about putting electricity into your head. In any event, here’s a quadcopter / stun gun mashup we made. Don’t do that, either. You might get a takedown request.

52 thoughts on “Shocking Your Brain And Making Yourself Smarter

  1. Current in the brain is not the same as current in a electrical circuit. A current of electrons through neurons will damage them–it’s a small amount of current, so it causes a small amount of damage.
    Also, the description “put the positive electrode over the part of the brain to be excited or the negative electrode over the part of the brain to be inhibited” is ridiculous. Current flows through both areas equally. The orientation should not matter. You would be better off saying “We don’t know if/how it works.”

    1. That’s like saying that electroplating should not work because both electrodes carry the same current. The anode and cathode do indeed behave differently.

      Perhaps the electrons being pushed from one portion of the brain to the other is what causes this effect? I have no idea but there’s a reason many electronic components have a positive and negative lead, because the direction of electron flow does make a difference.

      1. Agreed, it could very well simply move the ions that inhabit the cells. You know, those ions that facilitate neural activity….
        I would imagine the brain is constantly moving them back and forth and the current acts to keep them concentrated on one side or the other.

  2. From the article with the picture: “I am now prepared to mess with my son’s neurochemistry to allow him success. You know, plug him in in the morning, plug him in in the afternoon, and then rewire the brain.”

    Those parents really need to watch the 1972 documentary “Future Shock” narrated by Orson Welles, based on the book by Alvin Toffler, to see how badly this ends. In that film there is a man shown getting out of bed, groggily finding a 110VAC wall socket to jack-in his neural implant, and pressing a button with his thumb to charge up his cognitive co-processor brain implant for that day, the way many people feed their caffeine addiction every morning.

    I wrote up the ‘Brain Boost Button’ on my blog a while ago:

    There are many “Mind Machines” that have been around for a long time.

    It appears that Oxford neuroscientist Roi Cohen Kadosh did no due diligence of any kind to see what was done before.

    If you really have interest in learning this field then start with the books by
    the team Sheila Ostrander, Nancy Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder:

    Leaders of the Mind-Machine era hang out here:

    BTW, the ‘constant current’ schematic shown has very poor temperature compensation.
    Take a look at for some better ones. I’d use a LTC3092 myself:

    1. “His father, Dan, agrees. “As a father, you want to see your son really reaching and aspiring and really wanting to try. You want your son to believe in himself,” he says.”

      Yeah – because running the poor sod through one quack/crakcpot “cure” after another to make him into the person YOU wanted him to become will surely be for his own good?

      “Sams” parents are insane!

    2. How you have leaped to the conclusion that Kadosh hasn’t done due diligence is beyond me. Where in that article did you get the impression that Kadosh was claiming to be the first person to work with tCDS?

      You do understand that all of those mind machines you have linked to are not the same thing, right? Not the same as tDCS? Not the same as each other… it’s an incredibly broad field full of questionable (to put it generously) science. But surely you don’t think linking to a wiki that catalogues such a general collection of novelty items is somehow an argument, do you?

  3. Would all of the other epileptics of the world care to join in one, giant, worldwide

    What a terrifyingly stupid idea, shocking the human brain.

    1. as an epileptic who suffered brain damage during a seizure that caused me to comprehend slower and the need to relearn many odd things in my mid thirties i am skeptical of this. Thinking of the brain as an electronic device or more specifically a computer is not the entire picture.

  4. What would be more interesting is trying to read serial data being sent to the brain directly or a 8 bit data bus and ASCII . Then trying to produce output.

    Humans are capable of understanding ascii humans can learn to control muscles via electrical impulse . computers can produce and receive electrical impulses . WHY hasn’t it been done already.

    1. Many reasons, I guess.
      First, as far as I know, we can control muscles, but we still don’t know how to do it comfortably.

      Secondly, if you use 8 different muscles (on different locations, because you would have to be able to differentiate), then think about how hard that would be to process. I mean, would you even be able to remember all the locations and if they were activated?, and would you be able to do so with a reasonable speed?

      Not to mention the learning curve…

  5. Woo! Now I can be supa-dupa-electrically-enhanced smart! Just need to get my lamp cord…a few bottle caps and buttons…ah ha! Done! Now just to plug it in..hmmm, think I should get in the bath tub too?

    But in all seriousness. I believe in this kind of science. But at the same time I think it should be done on a clinical level. Lots of people much smarter than who spent time in med school to learn what’s ok to shock and not, and what it may do in the long term. People zapping there brain, while it is their right( it’s your body), just doesn’t sound like the best idea.

    Now, if I could volunteer for this kind of thing I would, happily at that. Just under the proper conditions.

  6. In soviet russia, device hacks you!

    But honestly every time I’ve heard about this I’ve been tempted to try, I’d just rather not die or become mentally disabled for science is all. Maybe once more research and volunteers have a go at it.

  7. Without knowing which parts of the brain you are stimulating you really are left to pure luck that you are hitting the right spot and in the right direction. Luckily the effects are temporary so you’ll either be an evil genius or drooling idiot/politician for a short period.

  8. I have seen a documentary that DARPA and the US Army uses this to train the people that see the live feeds from the drones to identify enemy vehicles and the like, the results are out of this world..

    1. Hm, so in US you also have strange ‘documentaries’ like our ‘mysteries of the world with anna chapman’, where they tell different pseudo-scientific crap.

  9. Ok, This is all fun and entertaining to read, especially the comments, but seriously? Fine, sure there might be a benefit to mankind in there somewhere and it might help a lot of neurological shortcomings in the future, but there is a laughable lake of the basic understanding of what electrical current does to the brain. even scientists who use electro-convulsive therapy don’t fully understand it. To me this is the equivalent of someone circuit bending, you THINK you have something cool and cutting edge, but your really playing around with something that wasn’t designed for that application. only difference is the danger of what could go wrong.

  10. did this with a lab power supply and two spoons at my local hackerspace.
    my friends somehow didn’t think it was funny. they were really scared.
    and as soon as i turned off the power supply i became reeeeally dizzy and nearly fell.
    luly were had that day. by me only though.

  11. Have done this in a fashion, accidentally. By holding a wire from a neon sign transformer with insufficiently thick insulation, then touching something with my skull I didn’t know was conductive or a ground.

    It did induce a temporary state of unusual lucidity. Can’t say I care to repeat it though, even under more controlled circumstances as described in this post. I’m pretty happy with my brain as it is.

    1. I don’t know about Luminosity or if it works on pseudoscience, but puzzles do keep the brain active and learning, But concentrating on only one kind of puzzle (e.g. crosswords, Suduko, Solitaire) will only work in that particular part of the brain so a variety of puzzles (mathematic, logical, colors, problem solving, etc.) are needed to keep more areas active.

  12. So if I shove one electrode way up my nose to get near the center of my brain, and then put two electrodes of the opposite polarity of the electrode in my nose on the right (creative) and left (logical) sides of my head, I can increase both creativity and logic thinking in my brain! Oh, I’m so smart, I’ll be ahead of those poor leftbrain v. rightbrain thinkers!

  13. Interesting, I knew someone at uni who was going to build a project using direct current bias using modified contact lenses for some sort of retinal function tester.

    I’ve often wondered if such a system could be used to restore partial function to damaged eyes in conjunction with NIR light to help regenerate the photoreceptors and underlying nerves (see “New Scientist” articles).
    As a possible bonus this could also increase IR sensitivity by providing reinforcement to the rods that detect low light levels as they are regenerating..

  14. Come on guys. You are missing the obvious. Think Woody Allen’s “Orgasmatron”. Place the positive electrode above the pleasure center and push the button, and push the button, and push the button, and push the button…

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