Brain stimulation can modulate thought processes that are related to problem solving

New methods of brain stimulation are being tested to see whether they are able to enhance cognitive behavior. In this study researchers from Japan have found that stimulation at certain frequencies can modulate thinking processes that are related to problem solving.

In a study released this month in Scientific Reports, researchers from the University of Tsukuba have revealed that a non-invasive type of brain stimulation known as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS, can be used to modulate brain rhythms and cognitive behavior that are related to “giving-up” in problem solving.

rTMS has been shown to enhance the synchronization of brain rhythms during cognitive tasks. Because certain brain rhythms are associated with aspects of cognition, this may have great potential in helping people improve their cognitive abilities, which is something the researchers at the University of Tsukuba aimed to tackle.

Prefrontal Theta rhythms are thought to be associated with cognitive control and conflict resolution, and alpha rhythms are related to the development of new ideas in problem solving. Since rTMS is able to alter neural activity we wanted to investigate the ways that stimulation at specific frequencies can alter the behavior of problem solving.”

Professor Masahiro Kwasaki, the lead author of this study.

To do this, the researchers studied the connection between brain oscillations and cognitive “giving-up” while participants performed problem-solving tasks. They then examined the effects of rTMS on brain oscillations as well as performance on the task. The task required solving riddles, and the participants were allowed to indicate when they “gave up” on the task.

“We discovered that the theta-rhythm in the frontal brain lobe was related to “giving-up” and the alpha rhythm was associated with success in problem solving,” explains Professor Kawasaki.

Next, the researchers applied radio frequency modulation (rTMS) at specific frequencies to those who were performing the same cognitive task. They also measured brain waves and the performance of the task.

“The results were exciting,” says Professor Kawasaki. “Theta-frequency rTMS increased theta amplitudes, and reduced “giving-up” behavior, and alpha-frequency rTMS increased the amplitude of alpha but did not affect “giving-up”. This is important evidence that rTMS is able to alter brain oscillatory activities and behaviors related to “giving-up” processes.”

It is possible to stifle rumination, a common sign of depression. For instance, people may be unable to decide when to “give up” and focus on something else when a certain behaviour isn’t leading to the desired result. The research suggests that altering neural rhythms such as alpha and theta could reduce the amount of rumination and also treat depression-related symptoms. This study is a fantastic illustration of how rTMS may aid in modifying cognitive performance by modulating the brain’s rhythms associated with tasks.

Journal reference:

Miyauchi, E., and. (2021) Behavioural effects of task-relevant neuromodulation by rTMS on giving-up. Scientific Reports.

Content Source:

Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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