I recently read about an upcoming wearable technology that can play with your brain and alter your mood!
So what is it?
A consumer device and app that hopes to help the average person better manage his or her mood. This wearable device allows the consumer to choose between "calm" and "energy" settings to stimulate two different mood states - focused or relaxed.
How is it supposed to work?
Co-founded in 2011 by experts in the fields of neurobiology, neuroscience and consumer electronics from institutions that include MIT, Harvard, and Stanford Universities Thync Company has innovated a proprietary technology with sensors developed specifically for an application.
You place a sensor (electrode) behind your ear and one on your temple (for "energy;" the "calm" sensor placement is a little different). You then tell the app what kind of "vibe" (or mood state) you want. The device uses neurosignalling to deliver mood-altering signals to your brain through nerves, muscles and specific brain regions. The transcranial electrical stimulation (TES) manipulates your brain's biology and moods.
While I haven't tried it personally, I get a good sense of the product experience reading Nidhi Subbaraman's comparison between using Thync's technology or cup of coffee, given that "Thync's Energize 'vibe' has been called 'the tech world's answer to a strong coffee.'"
Select Your Desired Pleasurable Experience, First
An e-jolt to the brain OR a good cup of coffee?
How does it work?
The device: Delivers electrical stimulation to the brain through electrodes
Coffee: Delivers caffeine to the central nervous system via a foam cup
What does it feel like?
The device: Slight prickling sensation
Coffee: Cold (or hot), sweet (or not)
Who's tried It?
The device: More than 3,000 guinea pigs, er, test subjects
Coffee: Who hasn't?
Informed Choice Making
The tech is intriguing, but the idea of zapping one's brain is inherently a little scary. Can wearable technologies hold the potential to unlock the power of your mind? If so, is it ethically or culturally appropriate for consumers to modify their behaviour using mind-altering gadgets? The real value can only be determined after sufficient research and case studies. This is especially important given the product's potential to play into people's mind and expectations. In case you want to know more, here's a good review by Dr. John M. Grohol from Psych Central.
Understanding physiological, psychological, biological, social or even cultural side effects before introducing such potentially disruptive gadgets into the consumer market is very essential. There might, after all, be negative outcomes such as addiction.
Whether you choose to zap your brain with electrical currents or try the more traditional coffee or alcohol route, you need to be aware that each choice has a set of benefits as well as side effects. Which choice is most risk-averse given you are dealing with mental health, is a key question.
A Natural Alternative
Until this wearable gadget gathers sufficient data and gains plenty of clearances for mass consumption, I recommend trying out a more natural option. Mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy!
Developing greater mind-body awareness can give you a natural and authentic ability to choose how you want to feel in any given situation. This practice can help wire your brain to feel good, happy, focused and relaxed. Exercising self-awareness also enhances your meta-cognitive abilities so much so that you can automatically make use of your awareness to understand and manipulate your own cognitive and emotional state - naturally.
There is plenty of scientific research supporting the efficacy of this technique. The stronger the practice of self-awareness, the weaker the dependency on external mood stimulants and vice versa. Resources such as Center for Investigating Healthy Mind by Neuroscientist Richard Davidson, Mindfulness Magazine, UCLA Mindfulness Research Center etc provide research and therapy suggestions while supporting the benefits of meditation, yoga and self-awareness practices aka mindfulness.
As a consumer would you prefer exercising intrinsic self-awareness as an ever-present authentic muscle uplifting your mood, or artificially simulating your mood using chemicals or wearable technologies? Choose Mindfully!