The speed of calculations in the brain is boosted by random electrical stimulation, a technique whereby a gentle current is applied through the skull, a laboratory study of university students has found.
The technique could be used to supplement traditional studying methods, if proven effective and safe in bigger trials.
"Some people will say that those who are bad at mathematics will stay bad," study leader Roi Cohen Kadosh, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, UK, said. "That might not be the case."
The study involved transcranial random noise stimulation, a technique whereby a tiny current is sent to the brain. The current travels through two electrodes, which are attached to the temple. The results are still preliminary, and some say that the study is too small to be conclusive.
In coming to their results, the team took 25 students and had them memorize a group of mathematical equations. While all of the students had two electrodes attached to their foreheads, half received an electrical signal. The signal was too small to feel.
The results indicated that those who received the signal were able to memorize sums more quickly than those who had not. The effect appeared to last for six months following the original test, though not as strongly. The researchers aren't sure how the effect works but suspect that the electrical signal may be synchronizing brain cells.
"Kind of like if you have eight rowers in a boat, if they're all rowing together they go faster," co-author Jackie Thompson, psychologist at the University of Oxford in the UK, said.
The researchers hope to eventually use the discovery to help those with learning disabilities or anyone who has trouble with math, but recognize that more research will need to be conducted.