Caffeine Kick Not Doing It For You? Try a Mild Electric Shock—The Pentagon Is | Smart News | Smithsonian
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Caffeine Kick Not Doing It For You? Try a Mild Electric Shock—The Pentagon Is

Direct jolts of electricity to the brain give a burst of alertness

smithsonian.com

Sitting at a computer screen and parsing repetitive, often dull forms, is surprisingly tiring. And while double espressos can kick the mental haze for most people, sometimes, coffee isn't good enough. Caffeine's effects wear off, and you crash, or else you get jittery. For the soldiers that sit and stare at reams of intelligence data, or drone footage, or work other types of high-intensity desk jobs, the Pentagon wanted something better.

As the Boston Globe reports, the Pentagon, through the Air Force Research Laboratory, is experimenting with a way to keep soldiers on their toes—by zapping their brains with mild electric shocks.

Using two techniques—transcranial magnetic stimulation and transcranial direct current stimulation—the researchers have learned to, essentially, give soldiers tiny little seizures. But these seizures, says the Globe, can zap tired soldiers back to life.

In one scenario, the test subjects — some who received caffeine, some brain stimulation, and the rest nothing — were kept awake for a full 30 hours to see who would measure best in wakefulness and vigor.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Staff Sergeant William Raybon, one of the participants.

“When I was initially hooked up to the electrodes there was a small tingling sensation.

But he said that despite being so sleep-deprived, he felt “refreshed” after undergoing the treatment.

The Pentagon is happy with the new tool and is looking to push it into use. Though, military leaders first want to do more research first to figure out whether repeatedly shocking people's brains might have some adverse consequences.  

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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