Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation of Frontal Cortex Decreases Performance on the WAIS-IV Intelligence Test, Sellers 2015

[Update 5/15/15 More or less debunked, at least a much better understanding of the anomalies of this particular study, from Nathan Whitmore’s rebuttal.] Would only now like to see this replicated with tDCS applied during testing. i.e. In this study tDCS was administered prior to the test (‘offline’ as opposed to ‘online’). But for those of us who are looking to tDCS for potential cognitive enhancement, this is a significant study. Posted to Reddit by Gwern!

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) modulates excitability of motor cortex. However, there is conflicting evidence about the efficacy of this non-invasive brain stimulation modality to modulate performance on cognitive tasks. Previous work has tested the effect of tDCS on specific facets of cognition and executive processing. However, no randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled study has looked at the effects of tDCS on a comprehensive battery of cognitive processes. The objective of this study was to test if tDCS had an effect on performance on a comprehensive assay of cognitive processes, a standardized intelligence quotient (IQ) test. The study consisted of two substudies and followed a double-blind, between-subjects, sham-controlled design. In total, 41 healthy adult participants completed the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV) as a baseline measure. At least one week later, participants in substudy 1 received either bilateral tDCS (anodes over both F4 and F3, cathode over Cz, 2mA at each anode for 20 minutes) or active sham tDCS (2mA for 40 seconds), and participants in substudy 2 received either right or left tDCS (anode over either F4 or F3, cathode over Cz, 2mA for 20 minutes). In both studies, the WAIS-IV was immediately administered following stimulation to assess for performance differences induced by bilateral and unilateral tDCS. Compared to sham stimulation, right, left, and bilateral tDCS reduced improvement between sessions on Full Scale IQ and the Perceptual Reasoning Index. This demonstration that frontal tDCS selectively degraded improvement on specific metrics of the WAIS-IV raises important questions about the often proposed role of tDCS in cognitive enhancement.

Source: “Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation of Frontal Cortex Decreases Performance on the WAIS-IV Intelligence Test”, Sellers 2015 : tDCS

Longitudinal Neurostimulation in Older Adults Improves Working Memory | PLOS ONE


Modeling of current flow when applying 1.5 mA tDCS for F4 anodal (top) and P4 anodal (bottom) stimulation and the cathodal electrode placed on the contralateral cheek.

Important study. 72 older participants, average age 64 showed improvement in working memory tasks but also (and this is a big deal where it comes to cognitive enhancement) significant transfer (where improvements are seen in other tasks not specifically trained for). These results run counter to other recent studies and beg the question of whether the participant’s age was a factor. i.e. Is tDCS more effective for aging brains? That would be a big deal. [See Also: tDCS selectively improves working memory in older adults with more education]  And thanks to PLOS ONE we can all read the full paper (linked below)

The results demonstrated that all groups benefited from WM training, as expected. However, at follow-up 1-month after training ended, only the participants in the active tDCS groups maintained significant improvement. Importantly, this pattern was observed for both trained and transfer tasks. These results demonstrate that tDCS-linked WM training can provide long-term benefits in maintaining cognitive training benefits and extending them to untrained tasks.

Interesting, the location of the reference (cathodal) electrode was opposite cheek.

In all conditions, one electrode was placed over the target location at either F4 or P4 (International 10–20 EEG system) and the reference electrode was placed on the contralateral cheek.

via PLOS ONE: Longitudinal Neurostimulation in Older Adults Improves Working Memory.