Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and Working Memory: Comparison of effect on Learning Shapes and English Letters

Sriharasha Ramaraju, Mohammed Roula, Peter McCarthy

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We present the results of a study investigating whether there is an effect of Anodal-Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (A-tDCS) on working memory (WM) performance. The relative effectiveness of A-tDCS onWM is investigated using a 2-back test protocol using two commonly used memory visual stimuli (shapes and letters). In a double-blinded, randomised, crossover, sham-controlled experiment, real A-tDCS and sham A-tDCS were applied separately to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (L-DLPFC) of twenty healthy subjects. There was a minimal interval of one week between sham and real A-tDCS sessions. For the letters based stimulus experiment, 2-back test recall accuracy was measured for a set of English letters (A-L) which were presented individually in a randomised order where each was separated by a blank interval. A similar 2-back protocol was used for the shapes based stimuli experiment where instead of letters, a set of 12 geometric shapes were used. The working memory accuracy scores measured appeared to be significantly affected by memory stimulus type used and by the application of A-tDCS (repeated measures ANOVA p<0.05). A large effect size (d = 0.98) and statistical significance between sham and real AtDCSWM scores (p = 0.01) was found when shapes were used as a visual testing stimulus, while low (d = 0.38) effect size and insignificant difference (p = 0.15) was found when letters were used. This results are important as they show that recollection different stimuli used in working memory can be affected differently by A-tDCS application. This highlights the importance of considering using multiple methods ofWM testing when assessing the effectiveness of A-tDCS.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0222688
Pages (from-to)e0222688
Number of pages12
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2020


  • Working Memory
  • tDCS
  • stimuli
  • Big-Five
  • n-back test


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