Brain Health,
Sci + Society,

#183: Evolving Human Performance

June 02, 2017

Imagine a future in which, as you walk to the library, you tell your brain enhancing helmet to stimulate your brain in the best way to learn math.  Later, you’ll head to the gym, and your helmet will stimulate a whole different part of your brain to enhance your training.

Dr. Daniel Chao is working towards making that future a reality.  The co-founder and CEO of Halo Neuroscience talks to Jesse about using electricity to interface with our brains to enhance performance.

Halo Neuroscience

Halo’s first product is the Halo Sport, a wearable device to enhance athletic performance.

Developed based on cutting edge research, it’s a health and wellness device which uses transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) to achieve physical benefits.

When Dr. Chao and his co-founder starting diving into the research on tDCS, it was very important for them to be able to replicate other people’s data.

The easiest study for them to replicate involved stimulating the motor cortex region of the brain to accelerate movement-based learning.  From fine motor control (think playing the violin) to gross motor control (useful for powerlifting) and everything in between, stimulating the motor cortex with tDCS produced results.

How It Works

How would you go about getting stronger?  Maybe by lifting weights a few times a week.

If you did that, your muscles would start getting stronger after about three weeks via muscle hypertrophy, the process by which we build muscle strength.

And yet, you would likely notice a difference in your strength far before the three-week mark.  What’s going on?  Strength is not just raw biomechanical power; it’s also a mental skill.  You’ll start feeling stronger because your brain is getting better at increasing its raw electrical output which tells muscles to fire.

The Halo Sport can speed up this process by stimulating the motor cortex, which controls voluntary movement.  The motor cortex extends in a strip between your ears and around the top of your head, making headphones the perfect shape to stimulate it.

The neurostimulation from the Halo Sport puts the motor cortex region into a temporary state of hyperplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the process by which our brains creates new neuronal circuits, especially for learning.  As young children, our brains are highly plastic but become less so as we age.  However, our brains remain a certain level of plasticity our entire lives — so it’s never too late to learn something new.

The hyperplastic state induced by tCDS makes it easier for your neurons to fire and form new connections — creating an environment ideal for accelerated learning and improved performance.

Using the Halo Sport

20 minutes of motor cortex stimulation using the Halo Sport will kick start a state of hyperplasticity which will last about an hour.  This means the device pairs perfectly with a 20 minute warm up, so at the end, both your body and brain are prepared for athletic training.

Jesse wearing the Halo Sport. (We’re told that it works even without a shaved head.) 🙂

That said, you still have to do the work to learn.  The Halo Sport will prime you for learning, but you’ll have to do the training and put in the sweat to see results.

The magnitude of benefits will depend on your current level of training, as well as the difference between your current physical state and your genetic potential.

Dr. Chao only recommends the device for ages 18 and up, since the intensity of the electric current assumes a skull of adult thickness. Children have less thick skulls, which means their brains would be exposed to more amplitude than would be safe.

Looking Towards the Future

Halo Neuroscience has made the strategic business decision to market the Sport to traditional athletes.  That’s not to say that it couldn’t be beneficial for a whole host of others.

Musicians could also benefit from the device.  In fact, Dr. Chao considers musicians a type of athlete.  The fine motor skills a violinist needs are similar to those a basketball player needs — both are movement-based training.

Looking forward, this technology could have multiple applications.  It could be used to help stroke victims with their physical therapy.

It could also be used enhance mental practice.  Visualizing yourself performing a physical movement actually causes the corresponding neurons in your brain to fire.  This could be a godsend to people temporarily injured (think a torn ligament).

Injuries that require rest to treat cause our muscles to atrophy.  But they also cause our brains to atrophy.  Brain areas not being used — say the region controlling your knee — are literally invaded by their active neighbors and give up that space.

Unfortunately, your brain can’t tell the difference between temporary and permanent disuse.  Visualizing the physical movement could be a way to slow down the brain’s atrophy, and using the Halo Sport during visualizations could give an additional boost.

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  1. Jane says:

    Wow. Very interesting show. I have retired from a career in finance and am trying to learn how to paint and draw. — wondering if this would help refocus my brain to a new way of thinking.

  2. Jane says:

    Also, one more old folks question for the doctor — would this be effective in training the cardiovascular system to lower blood pressure?

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