Galvanic vestibular stimulation speeds visual memory recall
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The experiments of Alessandro Volta were amongst the first to indicate that visuo-spatial function can be altered by stimulating the vestibular nerves with galvanic current. Until recently, the beneficial effects of the procedure were masked by the high levels of electrical current applied, which induced nystagmus-related gaze deviation and spatial disorientation. However, several neuropsychological studies have shown that much weaker, imperceptible currents that do not elicit unpleasant side-effects can help overcome visual loss after stroke. Here, we show that visual processing in neurologically healthy individuals can also benefit from galvanic vestibular stimulation. Participants first learnt the names of eight unfamiliar faces and then after a short delay, answered questions from memory about how pairs of these faces differed. Mean correct reaction times were significantly shorter when sub-sensory, noise-enhanced anodal stimulation was administered to the left mastoid, compared to when no stimulation was administered at all. This advantage occurred with no loss in response accuracy, and raises the possibility that the procedure may constitute a more general form of cognitive enhancement.
KeywordsVision Memory Sensory stimulation
We thank Jason Barton for providing the questions for the memory task, and Profs. Andrew Derrington and Howard Bowman for helpful comments on an earlier manuscript.
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