Stimulating the aberrant brain: Evidence for increased cortical hyperexcitability from a transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) study of individuals predisposed to anomalous perceptions

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Findings from neurological and clinical groups have shown that increased predisposition to anomalous experience/aura reflects an elevation in aberrant neural processes in the brain. However, studies of anomalous experiences in non-clinical/non-neurological groups are less clear on this matter and are more typically confined to subjective questionnaire measures alone. The current investigation, the first to our knowledge, carried out a transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) study of cortical hyperexcitability, and its association with anomalous experience in non-clinical/non-neurological groups. Sixty participants completed; (i) both excitatory (anodal) and inhibitory (cathodal) brain stimulation conditions of the visual cortex; (ii) a computerised pattern-glare task, where observers reported phantom visual distortions from viewing highly irritable visual patterns (a metric of cortical hyperexcitability), and; (iii) questionnaire measures of predisposition to anomalous perceptions. There were no reliable signs of cortical hyperexcitability (via pattern-glare tasks) when collapsed across the whole sample. However, a significant positive correlation between predisposition to anomalous experience and elevated signs of cortical hyperexcitability was observed. Crucially, there was a significant negative correlation between tDCS stimulatory conditions. A visual cortex that reacted more strongly to excitatory stimulation, responded less well to inhibitory suppression, and this pattern was related to predisposition to anomalous perceptions. Both findings are consistent with the presence of a hyperexcitable cortex. Collectively the present findings provide objective evidence that the brains of individuals predisposed to anomalous experiences/hallucinations can be hyperexcitable – even in the non-clinical/non-neurological population. These data are consistent with continuum models of anomalous experience and have important implications for contemporary theories of aberrations in self-consciousness.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Early online date15 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015