Enhanced working memory performance via transcranial direct current stimulation: The possibility of near and far transfer.Neuropsychologia 2016; 93(Pt A):85-96N
Although working memory (WM) training programs consistently result in improvement on the trained task, benefit is typically short-lived and extends only to tasks very similar to the trained task (i.e., near transfer). It is possible that pairing repeated performance of a WM task with brain stimulation encourages plasticity in brain networks involved in WM task performance, thereby improving the training benefit. In the current study, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) was paired with performance of a WM task (n-back). In Experiment 1, participants performed a spatial location-monitoring n-back during stimulation, while Experiment 2 used a verbal identity-monitoring n-back. In each experiment, participants received either active (2.0mA) or sham (0.1mA) stimulation with the anode placed over either the right or the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the cathode placed extracephalically. In Experiment 1, only participants receiving active stimulation with the anode placed over the right DLPFC showed marginal improvement on the trained spatial n-back, which did not extend to a near transfer (verbal n-back) or far transfer task (a matrix-reasoning task designed to measure fluid intelligence). In Experiment 2, both left and right anode placements led to improvement, and right DLPFC stimulation resulted in numerical (though not sham-adjusted) improvement on the near transfer (spatial n-back) and far transfer (fluid intelligence) task. Results suggest that WM training paired with brain stimulation may result in cognitive enhancement that transfers to performance on other tasks, depending on the combination of training task and tDCS parameters used.