Tech of the Week: the brain-zapping mood-changing headset

Feeling a bit blue? You can now zap the electricity in your brain and change your mood with a little white triangle that’s placed on your forehead. This is a literal “mind-control” high (or low) that’s just slightly spooky.

Energy or calm. That’s the two available functions of Thync, a sleek white module that’s attached to a person’s right temple, with a sticky disposable electrode strip down the side of their head to their neck.

It’s supposed to be able to activate the instinctual fight-or-flight response in your brain to indirectly affect emotional response, according to founder and CEO, Isy Goldwasser.

Instead of actually zapping the neurons in your brain directly, tiny pulses of electricity stimulate the skin, activating the brain-signalling nerves in the face, neck and back. Calm mode suppresses stress response nerves, while Energy mode ignites them.

What happens next (to you, that is) is where it gets a bit tricky. Using the device (which runs between a 5 to 20 minute cycle, depending on how mellow or excited you want to be) may be a confusing experience. The research behind the science is discrepant at best. Plainly said, scientists just have no idea what the actual effects are on the brain.

TechCrunch writer Kyle Russell reports a wavy, tingly feeling that wasn’t unpleasant, but would take a few uses before it stopped feeling weird. Russell managed to feel a wave of sluggishness, struggled to continue his interview, and “felt a strong urge to take a nap that lasted until I got home”. It might be the answer for insomniacs, apparently, and you get to look like one of the Borg in the process.

Part of the problem is Thync’s reliance on subjective experiences – what might be a very strong sensation for one user might not be the same for another. At best, it might be compared to a safe, digital version of a drug-induced high.

As it’s currently marketed as a lifestyle consumer product, it doesn’t fall under FDA regulations in the US, where the company is based.

Yet regardless of its actual effects, the Los Gatos-based start-up has raised $13 million in funding for the project. Officially launched earlier last week, the device is wireless, and connects to smartphones and tablets via Bluetooth.

Pre-orders for the Thync have already started with shipping expected in June. The device, along with four extra packs of sticky strips (five strips per pack) totals US$299 (NZ$419), with replacement strips costing US$20 (NZ$28) per pack of five.

While the strips are only officially recommended for one session each, unofficially as long as there’s no makeup, lotion or hair products they can be used for multiple sessions.

At the moment it’s iOS only, with an Android app arriving near the end of 2015.