Electrical Brain Stimulation Enhances Self-Control

self-controlAccording to new research, direct electrical brain stimulation can enhance self-control.[1] Neuroscientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston state that this new method could possibly be useful for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other severe disorders of self-control one day.1

Four volunteers with epilepsy agreed to participate in a study to be monitored for seizures.1 They were asked to perform a simple behavioral task that required the slowing of action in the brain.1 For each patient, researchers identified the specific location for this brake in the prefrontal region of the brain.1 Then, a computer stimulated the prefrontal cortex exactly when braking was needed, using electrodes implanted directly on the brain surface.1

The stimulation was brief, imperceptible electrical charges that led to increased braking or a form of enhanced self-control.1 According to the study’s senior author and associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at the UTHealth Medical School, Nitin Tandon, M.D., “There is a circuit in the brain for inhibiting or braking responses. We believe that we are the first to show that we can enhance this braking system with brain stimulation.”1

When the test was repeated, stimulating a region outside the prefrontal cortex, there was no effect on behavior, showing the effect to be specific to the prefrontal braking system.1 The electrical stimulation enhanced prefrontal function, while other brain stimulation often disrupts normal brain activity.1

“Our daily life is full of occasions when one must inhibit responses,” said Tandon. “For example, one must stop speaking when it is inappropriate to the social context and stop oneself from reaching for extra candy.”1

The results of this study are promising; however, they do not point to the ability to improve self-control in general just yet.1 Particularly, the study does not show that direct electrical stimulation is a realistic option for treating self-control disorders, such as OCD, Tourette’s syndrome, and borderline personality disorder.1 Also, the direct electrical stimulation requires an invasive surgical procedure that is currently only used for the treatment of severe epilepsy.1

[1] Wood, J. (2013). Self-Control Enhanced Through Electrical Brain Stimulation. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 17, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/12/14/self-control-enhanced-through-electrical-brain-stimulation/63313.html

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