Using non-invasive brain stimulation to access the mind's hidden skills


Savants are extremely rare individuals who, although often severely brain impaired - frequently by autism, stroke or dementia - can display islands of astonishing excellence in specific areas, including drawing, memory, music, calendar calculations, and arithmetic. Their skills are literal, non-symbolic, and apparently not derived from practice. They often emerge 'spontaneously' and do not improve qualitatively with time, even though their skill might be better articulated. Savants typically have no idea how they do what they do.

The astonishing skills of savants have been suggested to exist in everyone, but are not normally accessible without some form of brain impairment. We attempt to simulate such brain impairment in healthy people by directing low-frequency magnetic pulses into the left front-temporal lobe, a site implicated in the savant condition.

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a safe, non-invasive method of brain stimulation that can temporarily increase or decrease cortical excitability at the stimulated site, depending on the current flow. Although this technique is already used for rehabilitation, our MindLab is a pioneer in the use of tDCS for the purpose of cognitive enhancement.

In our papers (below), we show that by applying non-invasive brain stimulation to the left fronto-temporal lobe, skills such as drawing, proof-reading and numerosity significantly improve.


Facilitate insight by non-invasive brain stimulation

Visual memory improved by non-invasive brain stimulation

Reducing false memories by magnetic pulse stimulation

Explaining and inducing savant-like skills: privileged access to lower-level, less processed information

Savant-like skills exposed in normal people by supressing the left fronto-temporal lobe

Savant-like numerosity skills revealed in normal people by magnetic pulses

Concept formation: 'object' attributes dynamically inhibited from conscious awareness

Absolute pitch accessible to everyone by turning off part of the brain?