How to Overclock the Brain

Nine dots are arranged on the sides and the center of a square as in the picture below. The problem is to connect the dots with no more than 4 straight lines.  Go ahead and try to solve this. 

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(Minutes later...) If you found the solution, then good job, you're really smart, but that's actually beside the point.  
Under laboratory conditions, the expected solution rate for this 'nine-dot' problem is 0%.  Most people have trouble solving this problem even after given hints.  Enter psychological researchers Richard Chi and Allan Snyder.  They gave 28 participants the 9-dot problem.  All participants were given an apparatus that imparts transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which is a technique for stimulating the brain.  After 10 minutes of tDCS, more than 40% of the participants found the solution.  

The scientists also placed electrodes in the same positions of 11 other participants but they turned off the electrical current after 30 seconds. Therefore, these 'control' participants received the exact same experience as those in the active condition but didn't actually have their brain zapped. None of the folks in the placebo group solved the problem at any point during the experiment.

Unfortunately, not all of us can afford (or would want) to wear a helmet that zaps our brain into shape, but what this experiment shows is that the brain can be "overclocked" just like a computer.  

NIH sponsored research has shown that Binaural beats, particularly beta tones, can be used as a non-invasive way of overclocking the brain... the difference is that it uses acoustic energy via regular old headphones as opposed electrical currents to get the job.  You don't need any fancy tDCS hardware, just headphones, and a sound source like the Binaural Dream app. 

You can learn more about Chi and Snyder's experiment at Psychology Today.

- Sanj Brar

Sanjeev Brar