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The Electrical Stimulation Method: Theorists, Research & Applications

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  • 0:00 What Is the Electrical…
  • 0:57 Mapping the Brain
  • 1:55 Contributions and Applications
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Michael Quist

Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.

Electrical stimulation procedures offer solutions in brain research and therapy. In this lesson, we'll discuss the work of Fritsch and Hitzig, who made significant discoveries in neuroscience through electrical brain stimulation.

What Is the Electrical Stimulation Method?

Your body is a bio-electrical mechanism, with every part communicating to the other parts through chemical changes and tiny electrical signals. Neuroscience, research regarding nerves and brain structure, became a field of study when researchers discovered that the brain is an electrical organ, controlling the various parts of the body through electrical signals. This meant that it could be observed and controlled through magnetic and electrical fields. It has been proposed that electrical signals can be used to map the brain, exercise the muscles, create sensations of all kinds, and even cause growth, regeneration, and recovery. In this lesson, we will study the electrical stimulation method, which is the electrical mapping of the brain's motor control centers, as promoted by Gustav Fritsch and Eduard Hitzig, key founders for the study of neuroscience and great benefactors toward the study of psychology.

Mapping the Brain

Using various kinds of animals, Fritsch and Hitzig experimented by placing small voltages at specific points in the animal's cerebral cortex, a neural blanket that covers the majority of the animal's brain and largely controls consciousness. They found that specific places on the cortex controlled specific muscle groups in the body. Near the front of the brain, they could cause motion in the animals' rear limbs. In the center area of the cortex, they could stimulate the front part of the animal's body. On the left side of the cortex, they could make muscles move on the animal's right side, and vice versa. Their innovative approach confirmed two critical hypotheses:

  1. The body-control maps of the brains of animals tend to be consistent. They are not just random genetic developments where the muscles may be controlled from anywhere on the brain.
  2. Anesthetized (pain-deadened) stimulation of muscle groups is not only possible, but can be greatly beneficial in mapping the surface of the cerebral cortex.

Contributions and Applications

Fritsch and Hitzig offered a tool for the study of the human brain that had not previously been available. If animal brains could be studied through applying small voltages at key locations on the cerebral cortex, why not humans? Humans are, after all, another species of animal. Dramatic advances in the fields of medicine, psychology, and neuroscience quickly followed the discovery that we can map the human brain through applied voltage and observed muscular response.

The discoveries of Fritsch and Hitzig opened the doors for many brain-mapping techniques available today. For example, if the brain creates and uses electrical signals, could we not observe the electromagnetic effects that accompany such signals? Direct electrical stimulation can be dangerous to live patients, but using machines to monitor the magnetic fields caused by their own naturally occurring electrical signals is relatively safe, painless, and non-invasive. The electroencephalogram (EEG) does exactly that. It monitors the electrical signals being created by your brain without the need for introducing electrical charges. Another direct result of the Fritsch and Hitzig studies was the realization that a library of human brain topography could be created and would be extremely useful, because, like animals, human brains are fairly similar in their motor control layout.

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