DARPA Starts A Large-scale Study To Enhance Learning Ability

Posted: Apr 30 2017, 9:35am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 30 2017, 9:42am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
DARPA Conducts a Large-scale Study to Enhance Learning Ability
Courtesy of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

The research program will look for ways to boost learning and accelerate training for skills relevant to national security missions

Last year, U.S. Defense Department announced a coordinated research program that will look for ways to speed up cognitive skills. The program, named, Targeted Neuroplasticity Training or TNT, has now officially begun. As a part of it, Defense Department’s research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is awarding multimillion-dollar contracts to eight university groups that will investigate how we can enhance the brain’s ability to learn by using electrical stimulation.

Human body has a network of peripheral nerves that connects neurons in the brain to skin, muscles and other parts of the body and regulates a variety of biological functions. Recent researches have shown that stimulation of certain peripheral nerves can activate regions of the brain that are linked to learning. They can bring changes in synaptic plasticity which is a biological process thought to contribute to learning and memory and the change in synaptic plasticity depends on how active or inactive synapses are.

The aim of the program is to develop safe and effective means to accelerate cognitive skills in healthy individuals while reducing cost and time. The experiments will be conducted on both humans and animals and DAPRA is hoping to see a 30 percent improvement in the learning ability of the brain at the end of the four-year program.

“DARPA is approaching the study of synaptic plasticity from multiple angles to determine whether there are safe and responsible ways to enhance learning and accelerate training for skills relevant to national security missions.” Doug Weber, the TNT Program Manager said in a statement.

It takes years to learn some of the most important national security skills, such as speaking foreign languages, analyzing surveillance images and shooting at a mark. The research program will decipher the neural activity and identify the physiological mechanisms that might influence synaptic plasticity, making the brains more adaptive to the learning processes.

If successful, TNT could accelerate learning and reduce the time needed to learn national security skills.

“The Defense Department operates in a complex, interconnected world in which human skills such as communication and analysis are vital and the department has long pushed the frontiers of training to maximize those skills,” said Weber. “DARPA’s goal with TNT is to further enhance the most effective existing training methods so the men and women of our Armed Forces can operate their full potential.”

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