Monday, August 01, 2016

Zapping your brain at home.

Mindblog has done a number of posts on transcranial electrical stimulation, usually reporting some beneficial cognitive or emotional effects (enter 'transcranial in the mindblog search box to see some of these). Because the technique requires only a 9 volt battery and a couple of wires, do it yourself (D.I.Y) kits have been marketed by a number of websites, but in general professional cognitive scientists caution against home brew science efforts because of potential deleterious effects of brain stimulation (though none have been reported). A recent Gray Matter piece by Anna Wexler reports her study over the past three years of D.I.Y. brain stimulators:
Their conflict with neuroscientists offers a fascinating case study of what happens when experimental tools normally kept behind the closed doors of academia — in this case, transcranial direct current stimulation — are appropriated for use outside them...To date, more than 1,000 peer-reviewed studies of the technique have been published. Studies have suggested, among other things, that the stimulation may be beneficial for treating problems like depression and chronic pain as well as enhancing cognition and learning in healthy individuals.
(I should point out my post noting a review by Farah that references one meta-analysis of the literature that does not support reported cognitive effects.)
Home use remains a subculture, part of the contemporary movement to “hack” one’s body — using supplements, brain-training games and self-tracking devices — to optimize productivity...I have conducted long interviews with dozens of D.I.Y. stimulators, both in person and via Skype; collected hundreds of questionnaire responses; and tracked online forums, websites, blogs and other platforms on which practitioners communicate. I’ve found that they are — for the most part — astute, inventive and resourceful....I’ve found (as I reported last year in The Journal of Medical Ethics) that users adhere to many of the protocols used in scientific studies.
The growth of D.I.Y. brain stimulation stems in part from a larger frustration with the exclusionary institutions of modern medicine, such as the exorbitant price of pharmaceuticals and the glacial pace at which new therapies trickle down to patients. For people without an institutional affiliation, even reading a journal article can be prohibitively expensive.
As neuroscientists continue to conduct brain stimulation experiments, publish results in journals and hold conferences, the D.I.Y. practitioners have remained quiet downstream listeners, blogging about scientists’ experiments, posting unrestricted versions of journal articles and linking to videos of conference talks. Some practitioners create their own manuals and guides based on published papers.
Added note: Want a brain stimulation conference? Check this out.

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