Improved multitasking following prefrontal tDCS

Cortex. Nov-Dec 2013;49(10):2845-52. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2013.08.015. Epub 2013 Sep 5.


We have a limited capacity for mapping sensory information onto motor responses. This processing bottleneck is thought to be a key factor in determining our ability to make two decisions simultaneously - i.e., to multitask (Pashler, 1984, 1994; Welford, 1952). Previous functional imaging research (Dux, Ivanoff, Asplund, & Marois, 2006; Dux et al., 2009) has localised this bottleneck to the posterior lateral prefrontal cortex (pLPFC) of the left hemisphere. Currently, however, it is unknown whether this region is causally involved in multitasking performance. We investigated the role of the left pLPFC in multitasking using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). The behavioural paradigm included single- and dual-task trials, each requiring a speeded discrimination of visual stimuli alone, auditory stimuli alone, or both visual and auditory stimuli. Reaction times for single- and dual-task trials were compared before, immediately after, and 20 min after anodal stimulation (excitatory), cathodal stimulation (inhibitory), or sham stimulation. The cost of responding to the two tasks (i.e., the reduction in performance for dual- vs single-task trials) was significantly reduced by cathodal stimulation, but not by anodal or sham stimulation. Overall, the results provide direct evidence that the left pLPFC is a key neural locus of the central bottleneck that limits an individual's ability to make two simple decisions simultaneously.

Keywords: Bottleneck; Multitasking; Posterior lateral prefrontal cortex; Response selection; Transcranial direct current stimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation*
  • Electrodes
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult