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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

September 2012, Vol. 24, No. 9, Pages 1826-1833
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00248)
© 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
When Less Is More: Evidence for a Facilitative Cathodal tDCS Effect in Attentional Abilities
Article PDF (187.22 KB)

Many previous studies reported that the hyperpolarization of cortical neurons following cathodal stimulation (in transcranial direct current stimulation) has resulted in cognitive performance degradation. Here, we challenge this assumption by showing that cathodal stimulation will not always degrade cognitive performance. We used an attentional load paradigm in which irrelevant stimuli are processed only under low but not under high attentional load. Thirty healthy participants were randomly allocated into three interventional groups with different brain stimulation parameters (active anodal posterior parietal cortex [PPC], active cathodal PPC, and sham). Cathodal but not anodal stimulation enabled flanker processing even in high-loaded scenes. A second experiment was carried out to assert whether the improved flanker processing under cathodal stimulation is because of altered attention allocation between center and surround or, alternatively, enhanced attentional resources. In this experiment, the flanker was presented centrally. The results of Experiment 2 replicated Experiment 1's finding of improved flanker processing. We interpret the results from these two experiments as evidence for the ability of cathodal stimulation to enhance attentional resources rather than simply change attention allocation between center and periphery. Cathodal stimulation in high-loaded scenes can act like a noise filter and may in fact enhance cognitive performance. This study contributes to understanding the way the PPC is engaged with attentional functions and explains the cathodal effects, which thus might lead to more efficient brain stimulation protocols.