Task-specific facilitation of cognition by anodal transcranial direct current stimulation of the prefrontal cortex

P. A. Pope, J. W. Brenton, R. C. Miall

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49 Citations (Scopus)
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We previously speculated that depression of cerebellar excitability using cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) might release extra cognitive resources via the disinhibition of activity in prefrontal cortex. The objective of the present study was to investigate whether anodal tDCS over the prefrontal cortex could similarly improve performance when cognitive demands are high. Sixty-three right-handed participants in 3 separate groups performed the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task (PASAT) and the more difficult Paced Auditory Serial Subtraction Task (PASST), before and after 20 min of anodal, cathodal, or sham stimulation over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Performance was assessed in terms of the accuracy, latency, and variability of correct verbal responses. All behavioral measures significantly improved for the PASST after anodal DLPFC stimulation, but not the PASAT. There were smaller practice effects after cathodal and sham stimulation. Subjective ratings of attention and mental fatigue were unchanged by tDCS over time. We conclude that anodal stimulation over the left DLPFC can selectively improve performance on a difficult cognitive task involving arithmetic processing, verbal working memory, and attention. This result might be achieved by focally improving executive functions and/or cognitive capacity when tasks are difficult, rather than by improving levels of arousal/alertness.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCerebral Cortex
Early online date15 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • arithmetic cognition
  • dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
  • transcranial direct current stimulation
  • working memory


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