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Hack Your Brain with Electricity

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The quest for self-improvement is not new. Years ago, self-help books and seminars were the rage for improved productivity, organization, and health. In recent years, consumers download a wide variety of smartphone apps to achieve better results. In fact, "hacking" one's life has become big business. And now, some people are going so far as to use electricity and a type of DIY shock therapy to improve brain functions.

This worrisome practice has people attach to the scalp what amounts to electrodes and a small battery that delivers a low-intensity electric current to specifically targeted areas of the brain. These devices are supposed to improve study and memory skills, which make them especially popular with university students around exam time. Students learn and think more quickly, and also enjoy sharper focus. These devices are also purported to improve mood, and in particular alleviate some of the symptoms of depression, too.

The idea began as a treatment for chronic illnesses like depression, but it has spread to Internet forums with detailed instructions and vigorous discussions. Companies have cashed in on the hype too. Although someone could develop a device with parts from the hardware store, commercially sold devices retail for $200 and more.

Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, there are numerous risks. Self-made devices have caused burned skin, mood swings, and outbursts of anger. Some people have complained of seeing white flashes, headaches, and nausea when using these devices too, and these are but the short-term concerns. Even worse, no one knows the long-term risks, which could prove even more detrimental than a headache remedied with aspirin.

It seems there will eternally be people who seek improvement, even with the possibility of serious risk.


Preview some of the lesson material:

Discuss: Do you agree or disagree? Why?

  1. People should always try to improve themselves.
  2. I would like to be smarter!
  3. I would like to be healthier!
  4. I would like to be more productive!
  5. Many types of self-improvement can also be risky.

Fill in the Blanks: Fill in the blank with the correct word.

  1. The (                         ) for self-improvement is not new.
  2. Self-help books and seminars were the (                         ) for improved productivity, organization, and health.
  3. These devices are also (                         ) to improve mood.
  4. These devices (                         ) some of the symptoms of depression.
  5. The idea began as a treatment for (                         ) illnesses like depression.
  6. It has spread to Internet forums with detailed instructions and ( discussions.
  7. Companies have cashed in on the (                         ) too.
  8. Commercially sold devices (                         ) for $200 and more.
  9. This could prove even more (                         ) than a headache remedied with aspirin.
  10. It seems there will (                         ) be people who seek improvement, even with the possibility of serious risk.

post-Comprehension: Talk about the following questions in pairs/groups. Remember to support your answers!

  1. What kind of people would try the therapy? Why do you think they would try it?
  2. With the current information available, would you want to try this new electric shock therapy?
  3. If the shock therapy were proven safe and effective, would you want to try it? Please explain.
  4. Is life hacking popular in your country? Please explain.
  5. Why do people continually try to improve themselves? Please explain.

Google Search: Type "life hacking" into Google. Look at the websites, and/or read additional articles on this topic. Discuss or write an essay about your findings.


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