Polarity-dependent Effects of Biparietal Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on the Interplay between Target Location and Distractor Saliency in Visual Attention

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External organisations

  • University of Oxford
  • University of California Davis
  • University of Bern


Visual attention allows the allocation of limited neural processing resources to stimuli based on their behavioral priorities. The selection of task-relevant visual targets entails the processing of multiple competing stimuli and the suppression of distractors that may be either perceptually salient or perceptually similar to targets. The posterior parietal cortex controls the interaction between top-down (task-driven) and bottom-up (stimulus-driven) processes competing for attentional selection, as well as spatial distribution of attention. Here, we examined whether biparietal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) would modulate the interaction between top-down and bottom-up processes in visual attention. Visual attention function was assessed with a visual discrimination task, in which a lateralized target was presented alone or together with a contralateral, similar or salient, distractor. The accuracy and RTs were measured before and during three stimulation sessions (sham, right anodal/left cathodal, left anodal/right cathodal). The analyses demonstrated (i) polarity-dependent effects of tDCS on the accuracy of target discrimination, but only when the target was presented with a similar distractor; (ii) the tDCS-triggered effects on the accuracy of discriminating targets, accompanied by a similar distractor, varied according to the target location; and (iii) overall detrimental effects of tDCS on RTs were observed, regardless of target location, distractor type, and polarity of the stimulation. We conclude that the observed polarity, distractor type, and target location-dependent effects of biparietal tDCS on the accuracy of target detection resulted from both a modulation of the interaction between top-down and bottom-up attentional processes and the interhemispheric competition mechanisms guiding attentional selection and spatial deployment of attention.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)851-866
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number6
Early online date2 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


  • Journal Article