A study published in the May issue of Neuroscience Letters suggests that electrical brain stimulation really can make you temporarily smarter and more creative. In other words, you can put on this silly hat that gently electroshocks your nogginpudding and you'll suddenly be able to solve logic problems that you weren't able to before.
This brain enhancement technique is in principle quite similar to the transcranial direct stimulation system that we covered back in March, except that in this case, we've got a straightforward study that shows a significant improvement in a difficult task. The task in question is called the nine dots problem, and all you have to do to solve it is to connect the nine dots below by drawing four straight, continuous lines without lifting pencil from paper.
Most people can't solve this problem. We're not just saying that, either: studies have shown that most people in fact cannot solve this problem, even after being given multiple fairly obvious hints like "think outside the box." If you're stumped, don't feel bad, and you'll find the solution here.
The study in Neuroscience Letters, from the Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney, found the same thing: none of their test subjects could solve the nine dots problem after a few minutes of trying. But when they equipped half of the test group with an electrode cap that provided weak electrical stimulation to their brains, 40% of the subjects were suddenly able to figure it out. Here's the result, straight from the paper:
The majority of studies over the last century find that no participants can solve the nine-dot problem - a fact we confirmed. But with 10 min of right lateralising transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), more than 40% of participants did so. Specifically, whereas no participant solved this extremely difficult problem before stimulation or with sham stimulation, 14 out of 33 participants did so with cathodal stimulation of the left anterior temporal lobe together with anodal stimulation of the right anterior temporal lobe.
In other words, plug in this magic electrical hat and there's a 40% chance you will immediately get better at solving tricky problems. It's possible (likely, even) that one day this equipment may become available as an actual "thinking cap" that you can put on whenever you've got some creative work to do and you find yourself stuck. You know, like if you're trying to come up with a witty ending for a blog article.