Here we review the usefulness of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in modulating cortical networks in ways that might produce performance enhancements in healthy human subjects. To date over sixty studies have reported significant improvements in speed and accuracy in a variety of tasks involving perceptual, motor, and executive processing. Two basic categories of enhancement mechanisms are suggested by this literature: direct modulation of a cortical region or network that leads to more efficient processing, and addition-by-subtraction, which is disruption of processing which competes or distracts from task performance. Potential applications of TMS cognitive enhancement, including research into cortical function, rehabilitation therapy in neurological and psychiatric illness, and accelerated skill acquisition in healthy individuals are discussed, as are methods of optimizing the magnitude and duration of TMS-induced performance enhancement, such as improvement of targeting through further integration of brain imaging with TMS. One technique, combining multiple sessions of TMS with concurrent TMS/task performance to induce Hebbian-like learning, appears to be promising for prolonging enhancement effects. While further refinements in the application of TMS to cognitive enhancement can still be made, and questions remain regarding the mechanisms underlying the observed effects, this appears to be a fruitful area of investigation that may shed light on the basic mechanisms of cognitive function and their therapeutic modulation.
Keywords: Cognitive performance; Enhancement; Facilitation; TMS; Transcranial magnetic stimulation.
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