Speed Reads

playing god

Scientists want to zap your brain to stop you from making dumb decisions

Have you ever wished that a higher being would stop you from doing stupid things just before you do them? Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine may have just discovered the next best thing: implantable devices that can shock your brain out of self-destructive choices.

The scientists, studying deep brain stimulation in mice, found that electrical activity in the nucleus accumbens — a deep part of the brain that controls our reward systems — spikes right before a "moment of weakness." By shooting electricity to the nucleus accumbens through a specialized device right as this increased activity was detected, they were able to prevent mice from giving into their vices — in this case, high-fat food the mice had been taught to binge eat.

The researchers theorize that the results found in mice can be replicated in humans because the nuclear accumbens is an older part of the brain shared among most vertebrates. In the case of the study's one human subject — a patient diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder for whom other treatments had been ineffective — researchers conditioned the individual to expect cash-based rewards based on completing a certain task. Eventually, as the patient prepared to complete the task, researchers noticed similar electrical activity in the nucleus accumbens as had been detected in the mice right before they devoured the high-fat foods.

The study's authors believe that the similarity in the neurological response indicates that deep brain stimulation devices could react to problematic energy in the nucleus accumbens, preventing impulsive decision-making with just a few zaps. The devices are currently in clinical trials for patients with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.

"Imagine if you could [use DBS devices] predict and prevent a suicide attempt, a heroin injection, a burst of binge eating or alcohol intake, or a sudden bout of uncontrolled rage," said Casey Halpern, the study's senior author. Read more about the study here.