US scientists say they can help drive people to overcome difficulties by electrically stimulating a part of their brains.
Stanford University neuroscientists passed a small current through an area in the part of the brain that deals with error detection, anticipation of tasks, attention, motivation, and emotional responses.
Both patients involved in the study had epilepsy, and already had electrodes implanted in their brains to help doctors learn about the source of their seizures.
When asked about the effect of the electrical stimulation, here’s what they said:
I started getting this feeling like … I was driving into a storm … Almost like you’re headed towards a storm that’s on the other side, maybe a couple of miles away, and you’ve got to get across the hill and all of a sudden you’re sitting there going ‘how am I going to get over that, through that?’
It’s more like this thing of trying to figure out your way out of, how you’re going to get through something. It’s not a matter of how you’re going to production-wise do something.
Let’s say, if you knew you were driving your car and … one of the tires was half-flat and you’re only halfway there and you have no other way to turn around and go back. You have to keep going forward.
It was more of a positive thing like … push harder. push harder, push harder to try and get through this.
I get this hot flash. Starts in my neck and … then I try to fight it to calm down.
It’s the emotion of I know something is going to happen that I can’t control … [I felt] worried that something bad is going to happen.
I knew I had to fight to make it. If I don’t fight, I give up. I can’t give up … I have to make it through.
Something like that would only be triggered by a major accident, you know, cause anything small in life you have to be able to handle.
It’s the major things that if you give up on, you’re in trouble. You can’t give up. I feel like if I give up, then I’ve let everybody else down.
I felt the flash, and as we talked through it … it made me stronger.
The research team, led by Stanford University’s Dr. Josef Parvizi, reported in the journal Neuron today that current to the anterior midcingulate cortex gave both patients an increased heart rate, physical sensation in the chest or neck, and “anticipation of challenge coupled with strong motivation to overcome it”.
Parvizi and his team highlighted previous studies that showed how rats with damaged anterior midcingulate cortices gave up more easily when they had to climb over a barrier before reaching a food pellet.
They suggested that the findings could help treat psychopathological conditions where people had a reduced capacity to endure psychological or physical distress.
“These innate differences may potentially be identified in childhood and be modified by behavioural therapy, medication, or, as suggested here, electrical stimulation,” Parvizi said.