Can Savant Skills be Unlocked in any of us?

October 21, 2013 in Fun Trivia, News Items, Research, tDCS News

tdcs Savant Kim Peek

Savant skills are latent in normal people. According to the research of an Australian mind scientist, non-invasive brain stimulation like tDCS can bring our savant skills to the surface.

Most savants are born with their abilities. But severe brain injuries can cause savant-like abilities to surface. These skills can appear suddenly out of nowhere and can disappear just as suddenly. Likely there is a dormant savant in each of us.

The most famous savant is probably portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Kim Peek was the inspiration for his character. While suffering from autistic disorder, he possessed a number of extraordinary talents. As many as 1 in 10 individuals with autistic disorder have such remarkable abilities. He was seriously disabled and even could not button his shirt. His IQ was only 87, but he had encyclopedic knowledge of geography, music, literature, history, sports and nine other areas of expertise. He had memorized over 8600 books. He used his left eye to scan one page, and his right eye to scan the other simultaneously.

The first description of savant syndrome in a scientific paper appeared in 1783 in the German psychology journal. Like Kim from Rain Man, Jedediah Buxton was a lightning speed calculator with extraordinary memory. He was illiterate but could solve complex math problems as fast as any modern calculator could. He was able to do this, even while having a conversation.

Most talented savants display astonishing excellence in specific areas. These areas include drawing, memory, music, language, calendar calculations, and arithmetics.

Allan Snyder, an Australian mind scientist and director of the Center for the Mind at the University of Sydney, is poised to figure out where these skills come from. He did numerous experiments about inducing savant skills in normal people. He considers that savant skills are latent in everyone of us.

In the past, researchers have tried to explore the cause of savant skills, but with little success in providing a compelling picture that can explain all savants. One more recent theory assumes that savant skills are due to a left side brain dysfunction, with the right side brain compensating for the dysfunction.

Based on this theory, Snyder deduced that savant skills could be artificially induced in normal people. To prove his argument, Snyder initially applied TMS and later tDCS to the anterior temporal lobe in his research. For the experiment, he decreased the excitability of the left brain and increased it in the right brain.

His numerous experiments show that 60% of participants could solve an insight problem after tDCS stimulation. This provides compelling evidence to the theory that suppression of the left brain can lead to certain increased skills.

The left hemisphere of our brain is important for processing routinized strategies. And the right hemisphere is critical for processing novel cognitive situations. By diminishing left hemisphere with tDCS the participants tend to examine a problem anew, instead of through routinized strategies.

Snyder has conducted many experiments on revealing savant skills by applying non-invasive brain stimulation: