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DARPA: Targeted Neuroplasticity Training Program

Henk Haarmann (CASL)
Stefanie Kuchinsky (CASL)
Polly O'Rourke (CASL)
Gregory Colflesh (CASL)
Jamie Tyler (Arizona State University)

Funding Agency 

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Description 

The University of Maryland will receive up to $8.58 million from DARPA to study the effect of peripheral nerve stimulation on second language acquisition and brain plasticity.

The project seeks to examine whether stimulating the vagal nerve improves adults’ brain plasticity to help them learn a second language. The stimulation is delivered via an earbud that transmits a safe, low-voltage electrical signal to a peripheral branch of the vagal nerve.

The goal of the collaborative project is to thoroughly study vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) as a method of safely and rapidly enhancing foreign language learning. The researchers will use behavioral and neuroimaging methods to examine the effects of VNS on auditory, acoustic, and speech perception learning, vocabulary and grammar learning for written language, and short- and long-term neuroplasticity in the brain. Additionally, the research team will map the dynamic neural networks activated during VNS and learning. The Institute for Systems Research’s complementary studies on auditory learning will address the neural basis for enhanced neuroplasticity with vagal nerve stimulation, which leads to the targeted release of neuromodulators that improve the brain systems for attention, learning and memory.