Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a technique used to modify cognition by modulating underlying cortical excitability via weak electric current applied through the scalp. Although many studies have reported positive effects with tDCS, a number of recent studies highlight that tDCS effects can be small and difficult to reproduce. This is especially the case when attempting to modulate performance using single applications of tDCS in healthy participants. Possible reasons may be that optimal stimulation parameters have yet to be identified, and that individual variation in cortical activity and/or level of ability confound outcomes. To address these points, we carried out a series of experiments in which we attempted to modulate performance in fluency and working memory probe tasks using stimulation parameters which have been associated with positive outcomes: we targeted the left inferior frontal gyrus and compared performance when applying a 1.5mA anodal current for 25 mins and with sham stimulation. There is evidence that LIFG plays a role in these tasks and previous studies have found positive effects of stimulation. We also compared our experimental group (N=19-20) with a control group receiving no stimulation (n = 24). More importantly, we also considered effects on subgroups subdivided according to memory span as well as to more direct measures of executive function abilities and motivational levels. We found no systematic effect of stimulation. Our findings are in line with a growing body of evidence that tDCS produces unreliable effects. We acknowledge that our findings speak to the conditions we investigated, and that alternative protocols (e.g., multiple sessions, clinical samples, and different stimulation polarities) may be more effective. We encourage further research to explore optimal conditions for tDCS efficacy, given the potential benefits that this technique poses for understanding and enhancing cognition.
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The work is funded by the Ministry of Defense and is funded by Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), Porton Down, Salisbury, UK.
- Null effects
- verbal fluency
- working memory
- Brain Stimulation
- inconsistent effects
- transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)