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At-home brain stimulation gaining followers

DIY head zappers hope to become better gamers and problem solvers, but the technology may not be ready for prime time

By
2:30pm, October 31, 2014
man with electrodes on his head

BRAIN HACK Brain stimulators have escaped the lab — ready or not — and people are juicing their brains from the comfort of home.

The first time Nathan Whitmore zapped his brain, he had a college friend standing by, ready to pull the cord in case he had a seizure. That didn’t happen. Instead, Whitmore started experimenting with the surges of electricity, and he liked the effects. Since that first cautious attempt, he’s become a frequent user of, and advocate for, homemade brain stimulators.

Depending on where he puts the electrodes, Whitmore says, he has expanded his memory, improved his math skills and solved previously intractable problems. The 22-year-old, a researcher in a National Institute on Aging neuroscience lab in Baltimore, writes computer programs in his spare time. When he attaches an electrode to a spot on his forehead, his brain goes into a “flow state,” he says, where tricky coding solutions appear effortlessly. “It’s like the computer is programming itself.”

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