Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Augments Perceptual Sensitivity and 24-hour Retention in a Complex Threat Detection Task

PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e34993. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034993. Epub 2012 Apr 12.


We have previously shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) improved performance of a complex visual perceptual learning task (Clark et al. 2012). However, it is not known whether tDCS can enhance perceptual sensitivity independently of non-specific, arousal-linked changes in response bias, nor whether any such sensitivity benefit can be retained over time. We examined the influence of stimulation of the right inferior frontal cortex using tDCS on perceptual learning and retention in 37 healthy participants, using signal detection theory to distinguish effects on perceptual sensitivity (d') from response bias (ß). Anodal stimulation with 2 mA increased d', compared to a 0.1 mA sham stimulation control, with no effect on ß. On completion of training, participants in the active stimulation group had more than double the perceptual sensitivity of the control group. Furthermore, the performance enhancement was maintained for 24 hours. The results show that tDCS augments both skill acquisition and retention in a complex detection task and that the benefits are rooted in an improvement in sensitivity (d'), rather than changes in response bias (ß). Stimulation-driven acceleration of learning and its retention over 24 hours may result from increased activation of prefrontal cortical regions that provide top-down attentional control signals to object recognition areas.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Retention, Psychology*
  • Visual Perception*