Background: "The feeling of being there" is one possible way to describe the phenomenon of feeling present in a virtual environment and to act as if this environment is real. One brain area, which is hypothesized to be critically involved in modulating this feeling (also called presence) is the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), an area also associated with the control of impulsive behavior.
Methods: In our experiment we applied transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the right dlPFC in order to modulate the experience of presence while watching a virtual roller coaster ride. During the ride we also registered electro-dermal activity. Subjects also performed a test measuring impulsiveness and answered a questionnaire about their presence feeling while they were exposed to the virtual roller coaster scenario.
Results: Application of cathodal tDCS to the right dlPFC while subjects were exposed to a virtual roller coaster scenario modulates the electrodermal response to the virtual reality stimulus. In addition, measures reflecting impulsiveness were also modulated by application of cathodal tDCS to the right dlPFC.
Conclusion: Modulating the activation with the right dlPFC results in substantial changes in responses of the vegetative nervous system and changed impulsiveness. The effects can be explained by theories discussing the top-down influence of the right dlPFC on the "impulsive system".