The accurate identification of obscured and concealed objects in complex environments was an important skill required for survival during human evolution, and is required today for many forms of expertise. Here we used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) guided using neuroimaging to increase learning rate in a novel, minimally guided discovery-learning paradigm. Ninety-six subjects identified threat-related objects concealed in naturalistic virtual surroundings used in real-world training. A variety of brain networks were found using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data collected at different stages of learning, with two of these networks focused in right inferior frontal and right parietal cortex. Anodal 2.0 mA tDCS performed for 30 min over these regions in a series of single-blind, randomized studies resulted in significant improvements in learning and performance compared with 0.1 mA tDCS. This difference in performance increased to a factor of two after a one-hour delay. A dose-response effect of current strength on learning was also found. Taken together, these brain imaging and stimulation studies suggest that right frontal and parietal cortex are involved in learning to identify concealed objects in naturalistic surroundings. Furthermore, they suggest that the application of anodal tDCS over these regions can greatly increase learning, resulting in one of the largest effects on learning yet reported. The methods developed here may be useful to decrease the time required to attain expertise in a variety of settings.
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