Just a mild electric current through the brain to increase memory gain

Have you ever watched that compelling infomerical selling the incredible electrical muscle stimulator, the Tone-A-Matic, promising beautiful rippling abs to couch potatotes all around the world? Ever hope something similar would work for the brain? Well folks, you're in luck!

There has been mounting evidence that transcranial direct current stimulation can improve cognitive functioning (Boggio et al., 2006; Brasil-Neto et al., 2012; Javadi et al., 2012, 2013). However, many of the studies used single stimulation sessions with only transient effects.

Meinzer and colleagues (2013), from Charite University in Germany, looked to fix this very issue. They investigated the effects of anodal transcranial direct current stimulation over multiple days on 20 very lucky people. They found that mild electrical stimulation to the brain, right after the learning sessions, enhanced language learning over time for both familiar and novel words. But wait! That's not all. They also observed that the effects lasted over an extended period of time. They suggest that this technology could possibly benefit stroke patients during rehabilitation. 

I, for one, truly need this in my life. Especially right after learning someones name. Maybe a cheap DIY 9-volt electrical stimulator would work just as well? Then again, knowing my luck, maybe not. I'll stick with using mnemonics, for now. 


Boggio PS, Ferrucci R, Rigonatti SP, Covre P, Nitsche M, Pascual-Leone A, & Fregni F (2006). Effects of transcranial direct current stimulation on working memory in patients with Parkinson's disease. Journal of the neurological sciences, 249 (1), 31-8 PMID: 16843494

Brasil-Neto JP (2012). Learning, memory, and transcranial direct current stimulation. Frontiers in psychiatry, 3 PMID: 22969734

Javadi AH, Cheng P, & Walsh V (2012). Short duration transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) modulates verbal memory. Brain stimulation, 5 (4), 468-74 PMID: 21962975

Javadi AH, & Cheng P (2013). Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) enhances reconsolidation of long-term memory. Brain stimulation, 6 (4), 668-74 PMID: 23137702

Meinzer M, Jähnigen S, Copland DA, Darkow R, Grittner U, Avirame K, Rodriguez AD, Lindenberg R, & Flöel A (2013). Transcranial direct current stimulation over multiple days improves learning and maintenance of a novel vocabulary. Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior PMID: 23988131


  1. From what you have read, do you know how the currents affect the brain or what parts? If the current changes neurotransmitters then I would think the stimulation would be different than if nerve impulses received a 'boost' to generate more activity. Also, if different parts of the brain get this increase in activity then would it be easier to learn or think the same way that language memorization was increased?

  2. Hi,

    The anode was centered over the left posterior temporo-parietal junction, an area important for successful new word learning. It's also an area that is important for implicit new word learning. tDCS is known to facilitate firing of specific neuronal populations. I would think that if certain parts of the brain known to encode and consolidate specific information were to be zapped post-learning, then we would see increases in memorization for the related information. However, as they say, more research is necessary to figure that out.

  3. In my psychology class we have been discussing long-term memory. To make a memory long term you need to elaborate the information in some meaningful way, so you are more likely to recall it. It could be true that the electric shock could help you remember things you learned by stimulating the answer. Just like if you teach a dog come to a bell, the electric shock will trigger the answer, that's what it kind of seems like to me.
    -Kirsten Paul

  4. Hi my name is Vanathy and I work for the Library of Congress in the Science, Technology and Business division. I am currently working on archiving science blogs and I would like to nominate your blog. For more information about this project you can visit (http://blogs.loc.gov/inside_adams/2013/01/saving-science-blogs/). I require your email address in order to nominate your blog. Please send an email to vsen at loc.govif you have any questions or if you prefer not to participate in this project. Hope to hear from you soon. 


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