What electrical microstimulation has revealed about the neural basis of cognition

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2004 Apr;14(2):169-77. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2004.03.016.


Neurophysiologists have shown repeatedly that neural activity in different brain structures can be correlated with specific perceptual and cognitive functions, but the causal efficacy of the observed activity has generally been a matter of conjecture. By contrast, electrical microstimulation, which allows the experimenter to manipulate the activity of small groups of neurons with spatial and temporal precision, can now be used to demonstrate causal links between neural activity and specific cognitive functions. Here, we review this growing literature, including applications to the study of attention, visual and somatosensory perception, 'read-out' mechanisms for interpreting sensory maps, and contextual effects on perception. We also discuss potential applications of microstimulation to studies of higher cognitive functions such as decision-making and subjective experience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Humans
  • Motion Perception / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neurophysiology / methods
  • Neurophysiology / trends