These customized “vibes” are Thync’s secret sauce; the resulting mild shift in the brain’s electric state can reduce stress and anxiety or call up a person’s best stuff on demand, Tyler says. And that’s really just the beginning. Thync plans to launch its app with two vibes, “Calm” and “Energy,” but as the technology (and the science) progresses, more vibes for more feelings could be on the way.
Tyler, Goldwasser, and the rest of the Thync team are adamant that the technology works, and are themselves daily users of the prototype Thync technology. To prove it, they’ve done extensive in-house research (hence the collegiate-types rotating through the front office) as well as contracted a third-party chronic-use study with City College of New York.
Conducted in the lab of Biomedical Engineering Professor Marom Bikson at City College New York, subjects were given tDCS stimulation via Thync’s device, a conventional clinical tDCS device, or sham stimulation—tDCS that wasn’t targeted in any specific way but, in terms of the tactile feel, indistinguishable from real tDCS. One hundred test subjects underwent stimulation as many as five times a day, four times per week, for six weeks running.
“The main outcome was subjective mood,” Bikson says. “This is people themselves reporting how they feel, and whether or not they feel better. In a statistically significant way, we found that subjects receiving real stimulation felt better afterward, and that the relative improvement was larger with the Thync device. In that respect it outperformed conventional tDCS.”
The sham testing conducted via both Bikson’s chronic-use study and Thync’s own 2,000-subject in-house study indicate that the effect is more than mere placebo, Tyler says. Thync’s in-house research team has tested their subjects in every scientifically valid way they can think of, using everything from MRI to heart rate variability to saliva swabs testing for alpha amylase levels (an indicator of stress) to capture before and after physiological snapshots of subjects’ stress levels, anxiety, energy, and attention.
Under the electrodes, the familiar knot of tension between my shoulder blades begins to soften.
It took a year of continuous tweaking for Thync’s vibes to begin consistently beating the sham cohort, but “now the curves are on the other side of the spectrum,” Tyler says, and in almost all cases the Calm Vibe reduces the psychophysiological reaction to stress. Likewise, in testing Thync’s “Energy Vibe,” subjects expressed indicators conventionally associated with increased focus and attention, variously describing the effect as equivalent to a cup of coffee or, at peak, a small dose of Ritalin. The acute effects only last 45 minutes to an hour, but the residual effects of lowering one’s stress or dialing up one’s focus can last much longer.
But all of this data and the underlying science—with the exception of that coming out of Bikson’s lab at City College—is Thync’s own. Its device and research has yet to be peer-reviewed or endorsed by others in the neuroscience community or—critically—the Food and Drug Administration. It’s currently unclear if Thync’s device would require licensing by the FDA as a medical device, but Tyler says the team is working with the agency.
As executive director Sumon Pal fixes two small electrodes to my head he waxes poetic about that science. Writing vibes, he says, is like writing songs. “You figure out the pieces you want, but things change over time.” Over the next 16 minutes, things do change. My head and neck become accustomed to the warm vibrations imparted by the electrodes. My breathing slows noticeably, my thoughts cease their usual ricocheting off one another and zero in on the moment, and the familiar knot of tension between my shoulder blades begins to soften. By the time the Calm Vibe has run its course, the feeling feeling of warm relaxation running through me is somewhat analogous to the sensation one feels after a short bout of meditative yoga—or perhaps a healthy snort of bourbon.
The company is confident that before the end of the year it will be selling a consumer-friendly piece of wearable tech that actively alters users’ biology. Users will enhance their mental state with the swipe of a finger. It’s not science fiction anymore, Tyler says. It’s just science.