Sometime later this year, instead of reaching for a cup of coffee to focus at work–or a beer to relax afterward–you might use a tiny electrode to zap your brain instead. A new wearable promises to optimize your state of mind through electrical stimulation, giving the same mood-changing benefits of caffeine or alcohol without any of the downsides.
“This is the first wearable that actually modulates your biology,” says Jamie Tyler, co-founder of the startup Thync. “We don’t just sense your brain activity, we do something to your brain activity.”
By attaching an electrode behind an ear or the neck, a user is supposed to target specific regions of his or her brain to become more focused and motivated, or more calm. Through “neurosignaling algorithms”–waveforms that signal neural pathways–the device helps shift between the part of the brain responsible for the fight-or-flight response and the part of the nervous system that is more relaxed, according to the company.
“You basically just get a shift in your mental state,” says Tyler. “The acute effect can last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour; with some people it can last two or three hours.”
There are “calm vibe” and “energy vibe” settings. Users who tested the calm state were so relaxed, Tyler explains, that they couldn’t even force themselves to worry about anything.
“We always tell people to worry about something that would upset you or stress you out, and people can’t,” he says. “They try to think of something that would worry them or cause them stress, and they don’t feel the stress. And that’s because we’re basically dampening the sympathetic nervous system or the stress part of the nervous system.”
The result, he says, feels a little like drinking a couple of glasses of wine, but without impairment. In tests, the team found that reaction times didn’t change, and people didn’t think any less clearly. They just felt relaxed, and that had a multiplying effect throughout the day.
The “energy vibe” is similar to drinking coffee, but without jitteriness or other side effects, he says. “Whenever you ingest a chemical, whether it’s caffeine or a drug of any type, it targets systems in your entire body, and not just your brain,” Tyler says. “Those drugs act on your entire body. We’re going straight to the source.”
Users also don’t seem to adapt to the electrical stimulation–unlike coffee, you won’t need bigger doses to get the same effect. The effects are also nearly immediate; the body doesn’t have to metabolize a drug for the brain to shift in mood. Of course, zapping your brain might lack some of the sensory pleasures of a hot cup of coffee or a cocktail.
Co.Exist hasn’t tried the device to test whether we had these results. But Thync will be on the market later this, and so if it truly works as promised, we’ll surely be hearing about it again.