Mapping the parameter space of tDCS and cognitive control via manipulation of current polarity and intensity

Elisabeth A. Karuza, Zuzanna Z. Balewski, Roy H. Hamilton, John D. Medaglia, Nathan Tardiff, Sharon L. Thompson-Schill

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16 Scopus citations


In the cognitive domain, enormous variation in methodological approach prompts questions about the generalizability of behavioral findings obtained from studies of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). To determine the impact of common variations in approach, we systematically manipulated two key stimulation parameters— current polarity and intensity—and assessed their impact on a task of inhibitory control (the Eriksen Flanker). Ninety participants were randomly assigned to one of nine experimental groups: three stimulation conditions (anode, sham, cathode) crossed with three intensity levels (1.0, 1.5, 2.0 mA). As participants performed the Flanker task, stimulation was applied over left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC; electrode montage: F3-RSO). The behavioral impact of these manipulations was examined using mixed effects linear regression. Results indicate a significant effect of stimulation condition (current polarity) on the magnitude of the interference effect during the Flanker; however, this effect was specific to the comparison between anodal and sham stimulation. Inhibitory control was therefore improved by anodal stimulation over the DLPFC. In the present experimental context, no reliable effect of stimulation intensity was observed, and we found no evidence that inhibitory control was impeded by cathodal stimulation. Continued exploration of the stimulation parameter space, particularly with more robustly powered sample sizes, is essential to facilitating cross-study comparison and ultimately working toward a reliable model of tDCS effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number665
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberDEC2016
StatePublished - Dec 27 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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