Left Prefrontal tDCS during Learning Does Not Enhance Subsequent Verbal Episodic Memory in Young Adults: Results from Two Double-Blind and Sham-Controlled Experiments

Gergely Bartl, Paul Allen, Marco Sandrini

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    Recent studies suggest that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied over the prefrontal cortex (PFaC) may enhance episodic memory ability. As such, there is ongoing interest in the therapeutic potential of this technique in age-related memory decline. At the same time, the findings are not yet conclusive regarding the magnitude of this effect, and assumptions regarding underlying brain mechanisms of stimulation-induced changes in behaviour are yet to be tested in detail. Here, we evaluated the effect of tDCS over left PFC on verbal episodic memory in young adults. Two separate randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled experiments were carried out using (1) incidental learning followed by a recognition test and (2) intentional learning followed by a free recall. In both studies, participants performed a learning task with active or sham tDCS during the encoding period, followed by retrieval tasks on the same day and the next day. The results suggest that, contrary to expectations, active tDCS did not enhance memory performance relative to sham tDCS. Possible reasons behind the lack of enhancement effects are discussed, including the possibility that memory enhancement effects of tDCS may be smaller than first thought. Scientific practices that could improve estimation accuracy in the field are also discussed.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalBrain Sciences
    Issue number2
    Early online date31 Jan 2023
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 31 Jan 2023


    • Article
    • transcranial direct current stimulation
    • memory enhancement
    • verbal episodic memory
    • encoding
    • learning and memory

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