Hot? Or not? The lightning-quick spark that triggers desire when you see an attractive face is kindled within a deep brain region called the ventral midbrain, associated with processing reward. Now, researchers have discovered a way to stoke that fire with 2 milliamps of electrical current. Using a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which passes current through the brain between two electrodes on the scalp, the team asked 19 volunteers to rate the attractiveness of two sets of computer-generated male and female Caucasian faces with neutral expressions (examples above) before and after the activity in their ventral midbrains ramped up. A control group did the same, while receiving "sham" electrical stimulation that produced a tingling sensation but no real current. Compared with the control group, the volunteers who received tDCS rated the second set of faces as significantly more attractive on a eight-point scale than the first set, the scientists report online this week in Translational Psychiatry. The researchers are not proposing that we use their discovery to bewitch prospective lovers, however. Rather, they say their newfound ability to manipulate a deep region of the brain without drugs or an invasive surgery suggests that similar techniques could be used to treat disorders associated with faulty ventral midbrain circuitry, such as Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia.
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