Investigating the effects of tDCS on Visual Orientation Discrimination Task Performance: ‘The possible influence of placebo’.
The non-invasive neuromodulation technique tDCS offers the promise of a low cost tool for both research and clinical applications in psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience. However, findings regarding its efficacy are often equivocal. A key issue is that the clinical and cognitive applications studied are often complex and thus effects of tDCS are difficult to predict given its known effects on the basic underlying neurophysiology, namely alterations in cortical inhibition-excitation balance. As such, it may be beneficial to assess the effects of tDCS in tasks whose performance has a clear link to cortical inhibition-excitation balance such as the visual orientation discrimination task (ODT). In prior studies in our laboratory no practise effects were found during 2 consecutive runs of the ODT, thus in the current investigation, to examine the effects of tDCS, subjects received 10 minutes of 2mA occipital tDCS (sham, anode, cathode) between a first and second run of ODT. Surprisingly, subjects’ performance significantly improved in the second run of ODT compared to the first one regardless of the tDCS stimulation type they received (anodal, cathodal, or sham-tDCS). Possible causes for such an improvement could have been due to either a generic ‘placebo’ effect of tDCS (as all subjects received some form of tDCS) or an increased delay period between the two runs of ODT of the current study compared to our previous work (10 minutes duration required to administer tDCS as opposed to ~2 minutes in previous studies as a ‘break’). As such, we tested these two possibilities with a subsequent experiment in which subjects received 2 minutes or 10 minutes delay between the 2 runs (with no tDCS) or 10 minutes of sham-tDCS. Only sham-tDCS resulted in improved performance thus these data add to a growing literature suggesting that tDCS has powerful placebo effect that may occur even in the absence of active cortical modulation.
PMID: 32747876 [PubMed]
J Cogn Enhanc. 2020 Sep;4(3):235-249
Authors: BinDawood A, Dickinson A, Aytemur A, Howarth C, Milne E, Jones M