Bright light therapy has been shown to be an effective cure for seasonal depression. New Finnish research reveals that bright light therapy, when administered through the ear canal directly to the photosensitive brain tissue, offers benefits for those not suffering from seasonal depression at all, as it improves the cognitive performance and mood of the healthy, too.
Valkee seems to be targeted towards travelers anticipating jet lag, or those in Northern climates where winter exposure to light is limited. But the Valkee Benefits page mentions everything from PMS to ‘reduced carbohydrate cravings’.
“Valkee has CE Class II(a) medical device certification and is clinically tested.”
“Valkee currently does not ship into the US, but we will soon!” And you can sign up to be notified.
From (I believe) a talk in 2010 given at the Organization for Human Brain Mapping by Dr. Vince Clark, director of the Clinical Neuroscience Center at the University of New Mexico (and previously, director of the Mind Research Network). The slides reference a study where tDCS was used in training subjects to accurately detect hidden and camouflaged objects, as in a military setting. What caught my eye, something I don’t recall seeing anywhere else, is the comparison of effectiveness of different amounts of current. It begs the question: If 2 mA is more effective than 1 mA, what about 3 mA? [As Peter points out in his comment, the chart actually contrasts effects of 2 mA and 0.1 mA as a control. I do still think it’s a good question: Why 2 mA?]. Much I don’t understand in the slides without the talk to go along with, but have a look pdf, Quick View. And a link (abstract) to what appears to me a follow-up study. P.S. After tracking all this down I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to not be able to access the full texts of these studies, especially when we (NiH, DOD) paid for them. If you can get me a copy I would
greatly appreciate it.
Certainly a little perspective is warranted from time to time.
Instead, Chi and Snyder’s study suffers from a catalogue of confounding factors and logical flaws. The most important of these is the “Nostradamus” problem: that by failing to control for alternative explanations, their results – like the writings of the famous French prophet – are open to a multitude of possible interpretations.
Snyder’s participants solved maths puzzles that the researchers claim required “insight”, yet crucially the subjects did not perform any other tasks to show that only puzzles requiring “insight” were influenced by the brain stimulation. This flaw means that any interpretation of the results is defined chiefly by two words: “maybe” and “or”.
Rather than encouraging novel thinking, maybe brain stimulation made participants less cautious in reaching a decision, or maybe it helped them recall a similar problem seen a few minutes earlier, or maybe it made them temporarily less distractible (or even dulled their hearing), or maybe it boosted general alertness (not surprisingly, people tend to do things faster and better when they are more awake).
Another group of researchers hot on the trail how tDCS might be used to enhance brain function is the (non-profit) Mind Research Network of Albuquerque, NM. A lot of their work is funded by NiH, but what I’ve seen around their tDCS research pertains to increasing soldier’s ability to detect danger, and is funded by DOA (2010 Research Report pdf) Unfortunately I was not able to find a full version of the paper not behind a pay wall. The abstract is here and from a Scientific America article…
Subjects definitely register the stimulation, but it is not unpleasant. “It feels like a mild tickling or slight burning,” says undergraduate student Lauren Bullard, who was one of the subjects in another study on TDCS and learning reported at the meeting, along with her mentors Jung and Michael Weisend and colleagues of the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque. “Afterward I feel more alert,” she says. But why?
Bullard and her co-authors sought to determine if they could measure any tangible changes in the brain after TDCS, which could explain how the treatment accelerates learning. The researchers looked for both functional changes in the brain (altered brain-wave activity) and physical changes (by examining MRI brain scans) after TDCS.
They used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to record magnetic fields (brain waves) produced by sensory stimulation (sound, touch and light, for example), while test subjects received TDCS. The researchers reported that TDCS gave a six-times baseline boost to the amplitude of a brain wave generated in response to stimulating a sensory nerve in the arm. The boost was not seen when mock TDCS was used, which produced a similar sensation on the scalp, but was ineffective in exciting brain tissue. The effect also persisted long after TDCS was stopped. The sensory-evoked brain wave remained 2.5 times greater than normal 50 minutes after TDCS. These results suggest that TDCS increases cerebral cortex excitability, thereby heightening arousal, increasing responses to sensory input, and accelerating information processing in cortical circuits.
Remarkably, MRI brain scans revealed clear structural changes in the brain as soon as five days after TDCS. Neurons in the cerebral cortex connect with one another to form circuits via massive bundles of nerve fibers (axons) buried deep below the brain’s surface in “white matter tracts.” The fiber bundles were found to be more robust and more highly organized after TDCS. No changes were seen on the opposite side of the brain that was not stimulated by the scalp electrodes.
Just to reiterate, I have no association with GoFlow, just sharing the news.
Sorry for the long hiatus, we know we’ve been quite way too long.
We wanted to let you know that we are still working on the GoFlow project, and give you a hint or two of whats coming next.
We’ve been taking the last two months to “science up” and run more extended self tests. Any risk we can mitigate by taking the time to become more informed and test our device thoroughly is more than worth the delay from our end.
We have been getting tons of feedback to the contrary from some of you, and trust us we empathize. We did build one and use it on ourselves with very minimal research and testing. We can’t in good faith do that to our community. We say that fully appreciating the irony there..
We are continuing the development process as fast as our limited resources and time allow, and we will be much more communicative as we continue.
Stay tuned for updates and always feel free to email us with questions!
Alan Snyder is the Australian Dr. often associated with tDCS, TMS and creativity. We met him earlier on the blog. Dr. Snyder seems to be that rare combination of scientist, marketer and cheerleader for change. Turns out you can try his ‘Savant Test‘ as shown in this Nat Geo clip.
Another significant player popped up today. Juri Kropotov (bio) Institute of the Human Brain of the Russian Academy of Sciences. You can download his 2006 Powerpoint presentation, “Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS): a new old tool in neurotherapy” Here. You can see the Google Quick View version (and print it) here. Of special interest may be Kropotov’s use of tDCS in treating ADHD.
Recently, several people have called my attention to a very simple and quite old form of neuromodulation that is currently gathering a lot of research momentum—transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).
Here’s why I’m excited about tDCS.
The effects of tDCS seem to map directly to the core themes in mindfulness.
Enhanced ability to focus (this seems to relate to the concentration piece in my definition of mindfulness)
Enhanced ability to detect signals against a noisy background (this seems to relate to the sensory clarity piece)
Enhanced ability to deal with pain (this may be related to equanimity)
The turning off of mental talk (i.e., a samatha effect)
Cerebellum and processing of negative facial emotions: Cerebellar transcranial DC stimulation specifically enhances the emotional recognition of facial anger and sadness.
Some evidence suggests that the cerebellum participates in the complex network processing emotional facial expression. To evaluate the role of the cerebellum in recognising facial expressions we delivered transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex. A facial emotion recognition task was administered to 21 healthy subjects before and after cerebellar tDCS; we also tested subjects with a visual attention task and a visual analogue scale (VAS) for mood. Anodal and cathodal cerebellar tDCS both significantly enhanced sensory processing in response to negative facial expressions (anodal tDCS, p=.0021; cathodal tDCS, p=.018), but left positive emotion and neutral facial expressions unchanged (p>.05). tDCS over the right prefrontal cortex left facial expressions of both negative and positive emotion unchanged. These findings suggest that the cerebellum is specifically involved in processing facial expressions of negative emotion.
Exciting! Reports from self-experimenting starting to come in! In this case the author used the Cambridge Brain Challenge suite of tests to guage the effect of tDCS.
Observations The most immediatley obvious and striking effect of tDCS is the modest but significant increase in Paired Associates score during excitatory tDCS. This score, which measures the ability to remember the locations of objects on a screen, likely correlates with overall working memory, which has been previously shown to be improved by exciting the left DLPFC.
Another striking effect is that of excitatory tDCS on the Odd One Out test, a general test of fluid intelligence. Although it only reached a significance level of 0.41, the 1.6667 point average improvement is this task represents a very large gain in performance…
This is pretty fascinating. If I’m getting it, it implies that for this particular brain function there is an upward bounded capability. If you’re already there (say, genius level) tDCS won’t improve your performance, but it will if you’re not already wired at the upper bound! I know from my CambridgeBrainScience.com tests, that I’m especially weak in the VSTM (visual short-term memory) area. [Unfortunately there’s a paywall around this and most other journal paper.] Paper originates from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at the National Central University, Taiwan.
Here we show that artificially elevating parietal activity via positively charged electric current through the skull can rapidly and effortlessly improve people’s VSTM performance.
…The high performers, however, did not benefit from tDCS as they showed equally large waveforms in N2pc and CDA, or SPCN (sustained parietal contralateral negativity), before and after the stimulation such that electrical stimulation could not help any further, which also accurately accounts for our behavioral observations. Together, these results suggest that there is indeed a fixed upper limit in VSTM, but the low performers can benefit from neurostimulation to reach that maximum via enhanced comparison processes, and such behavioral improvement can be directly quantified and visualized by the magnitude of its associated electrophysiological waveforms.
One possible explanation of the findings, the research team suggests, is that the lateral prefrontal region is a “flexible hub” that uses its extensive brain-wide connectivity to monitor and influence other brain regions in a goal-directed manner.
“There is evidence that the lateral prefrontal cortex is the brain region that ‘remembers’ (maintains) the goals and instructions that help you keep doing what is needed when you’re working on a task,” Cole says.
“So it makes sense that having this region communicating effectively with other regions (the ‘perceivers’ and ‘doers’ of the brain) would help you to accomplish tasks intelligently.”
While other regions of the brain make their own special contribution to cognitive processing, it is the lateral prefrontal cortex that helps coordinate these processes and maintain focus on the task at hand, in much the same way that the conductor of a symphony monitors and tweaks the real-time performance of an orchestra.
“We’re suggesting that the lateral prefrontal cortex functions like a feedback control system that is used often in engineering, that it helps implement cognitive control (which supports fluid intelligence), and that it doesn’t do this alone,” Cole says.