Effects of tDCS on Arithmetic Performance

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Effects of Anodal tDCS on Arithmetic Performance and Electrophysiological Activity.

Arithmetic abilities are among the most important school-taught skills and form the basis for higher mathematical competencies. At the same time, their acquisition and application can be challenging. Hence, there is broad interest in methods to improve arithmetic abilities. One promising method is transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). In the present study, we compared two anodal tDCS protocols in their efficacy to improve arithmetic performance and working memory. In addition, we investigated stimulation-related electrophysiological changes. Three groups of participants solved arithmetic problems (additions and subtractions) and an n-back task before, during, and after receiving either frontal or parietal anodal tDCS (25 min; 1 mA) or sham stimulation. EEG was simultaneously recorded to assess stimulation effects on event-related (de-) synchronisation (ERS/ERD) in theta and alpha bands. Persons receiving frontal stimulation showed an acceleration of calculation speed in large subtractions from before to during and after stimulation. However, a comparable, but delayed (apparent only after stimulation) increase was also found in the sham stimulation group, while it was absent in the group receiving parietal stimulation. In additions and small subtractions as well as the working memory task, analyses showed no effects of stimulation. Results of ERS/ERD during large subtractions indicate changes in ERS/ERD patterns over time. In the left hemisphere there was a change from theta band ERD to ERS in all three groups, whereas a similar change in the right hemisphere was restricted to the sham group. Taken together, tDCS did not lead to a general improvement of arithmetic performance. However, results indicate that frontal stimulation accelerated training gains, while parietal stimulation halted them. The absence of general performance improvements, but acceleration of training effects might be a further indicator of the advantages of using tDCS as training or learning support over tDCS as a sole performance enhancer.

PMID: 32116605 [PubMed]

Front Hum Neurosci. 2020;14:17

Authors: Mosbacher JA, Brunner C, Nitsche MA, Grabner RH


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