Neuroethics Publications


Does Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Improve Healthy Working Memory?: A Meta-analytic Review

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Technical Report

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Publication Source

Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience





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Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been reported to improve working memory (WM) performance in healthy individuals, suggesting its value as a means of cognitive enhancement. However, recent meta-analyses concluded that tDCS has little or no effect on WM in healthy participants. In this article, we review reasons why these meta-analyses may have underestimated the effect of tDCS on WM and report a more comprehensive and arguably more sensitive meta-analysis. Consistent with our interest in enhancement, we focused on anodal stimulation. Thirty-one articles matched inclusion criteria and were included in four primary meta-analyses assessing the WM effects of anodal stimulation over the left and right dorsolateral pFC (DLPFC) and right parietal lobe as well as left DLPFC stimulation coupled with WM training. These analyses revealed a small but significant effect of left DLPFC stimulation coupled with WM training. Left DLPFC stimulation alone also enhanced WM performance, but the effect was reduced to nonsignificance after correction for publication bias. No other effects were significant, including a variety of tested moderators. Additional meta-analyses were undertaken with study selection criteria based on previous meta-analyses, to reassess the findings from these studies using the analytic methods of this study. These analyses revealed a mix of significant and nonsignificant small effects. We conclude that the primary WM enhancement potential of tDCS probably lies in its use during training.

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This is a Pub PDF version and the article has been accepted for publication in Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

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Date Posted: 05 January 2018

This document has been peer reviewed.