A small study has shown with some certainty that self-control can be enhanced by applying electrical stimulation to the brain. Scientists applied electrodes to the prefrontal cortex of each participant via invasive surgery. The participants performed tasks that involved ceasing what they were doing or switching to a new task. When certain areas of the prefrontal cortex were given an imperceptible electric shock at that point, the participants performed better.
The prefrontal cortex is sometimes called the command-and-control center of the brain. It is said to govern self-control in an individual. If the study focused on specific areas of the prefrontal cortex as detected through brain scans of the participants. If the results can be corroborated with further research, they may lead to other, non-invasive ways to affect the brains of people who have OCD, Tourette’s Syndrome and other conditions that impair self-control.
The study took place at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and the University of California, San Diego. The study was double-blind: Neither the participants nor the researchers knew when the electrical impulses were applied. The results were all quite consistent: the electrical impulses in every case helped the brain to “throw on the brakes” and make task transitions more quickly.
However, there were two major reasons why the results might be thrown into question in the eyes of onlookers. First, only four volunteers participated in the study due to its invasive nature. Second, all of the volunteers were epilepsy patients being monitored for seizures. Still, the consistency of the results begs further research.