Plus it's a great looking skull-plate!

I eagerly await my neuro pals explaining whether this is merely super-snake-oily or super-duper-snake-oily... I'm also guessing it won't get me high, or let me see time.

Foc.us headset: "Overclock your brain using transcranial Direct Current Stimulation to increase the plasticity of your brain. Make your synapses fire faster."

Previously, previously, previously, previously.

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21 Responses:

  1. I'm a Ph.C. in Neurobiology (defending in the fall), I'm certain this is a total rip-off scam, but I still want to see if they can send me a free sample in exchange for a pull quote so I can play with it. I've never done DCS, I'm intensely curious.

  2. I bought one. I'll let you know.

  3. do you have to put a cooling system in your brain? :)

  4. That is a little extreme, isn't it? :)

  5. I assume after prolonged use, you'll be foc.edup

  6. hilary says:

    Yeah, super-duper snake-oily.

    But hey, if you really wanna zap yourself, we can talk tms.

  7. gryazi says:

    When I was going through a rough patch someone got me one of these: http://www.alpha-stim.com/

    It's hard to say exactly how well it "works" and I only remembered to keep trying it for a few months, but with the ear electrodes the neat thing is that with the gain up high enough it creates flashes in your optic nerves. Basically a blinky-light mind machine you can wear while doing stuff (wherein 'faint sensation of having something chared by a 9 volt battery applied to your ears at regular intervals' is presumably pretty much equivalent to blinky-light stimulation whether or not you're actually seeing anything).

  8. Jake Nelson says:

    Unless it's a pure scam that does nothing at all, which is possible, it's a transdermal stimulator (not really transcranial). Produces a tingly-buzzy sensation. Which can be useful for providing what is essentially "haptic white noise" - drown out minor aches, tensions, etc, with low-level neutral signal. Helps some people focus, not others. Doesn't do anything to the brain directly, is trying to ride on the big fancy stuff that does.

    One of those things, like magnetic therapies, where the field is so full of dodgy knockoffs of things that were made by crystal-pyramid types in the first place that it's hard to find the good stuff.

  9. David Pfau says:

    Hi, another neuro PhD candidate here. As others have said, this is probably transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS). It's electric, not magnetic, and oddly enough it actually seems to work in clinical settings. No idea if this headset actually does the same thing as clinical tDCS setups though.

    • David Pfau says:

      Derp. They say it's tDCS right in the ad copy. Honestly, you can probably build a tDCS rig at home if you actually know what you're doing.

      • Ben says:

        "Honestly, you can probably build a tDCS rig at home if you actually know what you're doing."

        You can replace 'tDCS rig' with almost anything and that statement remains true.

  10. James says:

    Given that neurons communicate by pulse rate as opposed to any kind of magnitude or phase or decay time or anything else, the only things which don't make your neurons fire faster are the things that make them fire slower, which is roughly half of everything each.

  11. phuzz says:

    There's an article in New Scientist this week which mentions tDCS, subscription only I'm afraid.

  12. latemodel says:

    I won't say it's snake oil. I was able to quickly find peer-reviewed papers in reputable journals that claim that tDCS can improve performance on certain tasks. That said, I don't generally trust this stuff. Showing a tiny performance improvement on a simple task in a laboratory setting does not mean that you'll find meaningful improvements in the real world. Changing to a more complex task, changing the setting, and having non-experts apply the technology can all swamp small effects. So, short answer: it's not going to make you superman, and it's not going to make you able to see time. If you want to see time and feel like you're superman, go smoke a whole bunch of meth. It might even improve your video game scores.

    I haven't done the full lit review, and I don't intend to; but quickly, here's an example of something tDCS can do: improve your ability to remember letters for 6 seconds by 10%. That's according to one of the most heavily-cited papers in the field (172 citations, compared with ~640 for the original paper demonstrating the technique). By "can do", I mean: someone did an experiment and found an effect; got a paper accepted in a reputable peer-reviewed journal; their work has not been irreproducible; and my quick reading says that their stats are sane.

    In slightly more detail: Fregni et. al. showed that they could improve performance on a simple working memory task using tDCS. Subjects were presented a series of letters, flashed briefly on screen once every two seconds, and had to press a key if the current letter was the same as the one shown three letters prior. Subjects had 30 chances to get it right. Without tDCS, they got on average 19.8 right; with, they got an average of 21.7. Statistical significance is high, and that's an improvement of 10%.

    So: ideal laboratory conditions? Check. Very simple task? Check. Small performance improvement? Check. Personally, I wouldn't say that 10% on a simple working memory task is likely to improve your life; I'd say rather that it's scientifically interesting because it gives us a tool to explore the phsyical basis of working memory.

    I can't rule out the possibility that there is publication bias, and without more digging I can't immediately tell you whether it's suspicious that Paulus' name shows up on a lot of the major papers in the field. It could be that he pioneered the technique and just got a massive head start; it could be that the style of European labs means his name still gets on every paper; or it could mean that the effect isn't really there and others are having a hard time duplicating his results.

    I think that it would be relatively simple for someone to test whether video game scores improve with this technology: just monitor the score on one game for one player for long enough, and have the headset turned on or off at random. I find the fact that the manufacturer does not make any claims to this effect suspicious.

    • latemodel says:

      And if you wanted to do some digging on your own, you could start with the background in the introduction to Dockery et. al.. Strangely, all of the papers have Paulus as the last author.

      The stats in that paper don't look great, btw: they can show a difference between different kinds of stimulation, but not between stimulation and no stimulation.