Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) facilitates overall visual search response times but does not interact with visual search task factors

Kyongje Sung, Barry Gordon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Whether transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) affects mental functions, and how any such effects arise from its neural effects, continue to be debated. We investigated whether tDCS applied over the visual cortex (Oz) with a vertex (Cz) reference might affect response times (RTs) in a visual search task. We also examined whether any significant tDCS effects would interact with task factors (target presence, discrimination difficulty, and stimulus brightness) that are known to selectively influence one or the other of the two information processing stages posited by current models of visual search. Based on additive factor logic, we expected that the pattern of interactions involving a significant tDCS effect could help us colocalize the tDCS effect to one (or both) of the processing stages. In Experiment 1 (n = 12), anodal tDCS improved RTs significantly; cathodal tDCS produced a nonsignificant trend toward improvement. However, there were no interactions between the anodal tDCS effect and target presence or discrimination difficulty. In Experiment 2 (n = 18), we manipulated stimulus brightness along with target presence and discrimination difficulty. Anodal and cathodal tDCS both produced significant improvements in RTs. Again, the tDCS effects did not interact with any of the task factors. In Experiment 3 (n = 16), electrodes were placed at Cz and on the upper arm, to test for a possible effect of incidental stimulation of the motor regions under Cz. No effect of tDCS on RTs was found. These findings strengthen the case for tDCS having real effects on cerebral information processing. However, these effects did not clearly arise from either of the two processing stages of the visual search process. We suggest that this is because tDCS has a DIFFUSE, pervasive action across the task-relevant neuroanatomical region(s), not a discrete effect in terms of information processing stages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberY
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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