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Neurocase. 2004 Jun;10(3):215-22.

Switching skills on by turning off part of the brain.

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Department of Psychology, Flinders University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia.


Snyder and Mitchell (1999) have argued that the extraordinary skills of savants, including mathematics and drawing, are within us all but cannot normally be accessed without some form of brain damage. It has also been argued that such skills can be made accessible to normal people by switching off part of their brain artificially using magnetic pulses (Carter, 1999). Using repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to interrupt the function of the frontotemporal lobe, a region of the brain implicated in the development of savant skills (Miller et al., 1996,1998), we tested this hypothesis. Here we show that savant-type skills improved in 5 out of 17 participants during the period of stimulation. The enhanced skills included declarative memory, drawing, mathematics, and calendar calculating. In addition to overall improvement being observed, striking improvements in individual performance on various tasks were also seen.

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