Modelling non-invasive brain stimulation in cognitive neuroscience

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Sep;37(8):1702-12. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2013.06.014. Epub 2013 Jul 1.


Non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) is a method for the study of cognitive function that is quickly gaining popularity. It bypasses the correlative approaches of other imaging techniques, making it possible to establish a causal relationship between cognitive processes and the functioning of specific brain areas. Like lesion studies, NIBS can provide information about where a particular process occurs. However, NIBS offers the opportunity to study brain mechanisms beyond process localisation, providing information about when activity in a given brain region is involved in a cognitive process, and even how it is involved. When using NIBS to explore cognitive processes, it is important to understand not only how NIBS functions but also the functioning of the neural structures themselves. We know that NIBS techniques have the potential to transiently influence behaviour by altering neuronal activity, which may have facilitatory or inhibitory behavioural effects, and these alterations can be used to understand how the brain works. Given that NIBS necessarily involves the relatively indiscriminate activation of large numbers of neurons, its impact on a neural system can be easily understood as modulation of neural activity that changes the relation between noise and signal. In this review, we describe the mutual interactions between NIBS and brain activity and provide an updated and precise perspective on the theoretical frameworks of NIBS and their impact on cognitive neuroscience. By transitioning our discussion from one aspect (NIBS) to the other (cognition), we aim to provide insights to guide future research.

Keywords: Behaviour; Noise; Pedestal effect; Stochastic resonance; TMS; rTMS; tACS; tDCS; tES; tRNS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation / methods*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*