Facilitation of inferior frontal cortex by transcranial direct current stimulation induces perceptual learning of severely degraded speech

J Neurosci. 2013 Oct 2;33(40):15868-78. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5466-12.2013.


Perceptual learning requires the generalization of categorical perceptual sensitivity from trained to untrained items. For degraded speech, perceptual learning modulates activation in a left-lateralized network, including inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and inferior parietal cortex (IPC). Here we demonstrate that facilitatory anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS(anodal)) can induce perceptual learning in healthy humans. In a sham-controlled, parallel design study, 36 volunteers were allocated to the three following intervention groups: tDCS(anodal) over left IFG, IPC, or sham. Participants decided on the match between an acoustically degraded and an undegraded written word by forced same-different choice. Acoustic degradation varied in four noise-vocoding levels (2, 3, 4, and 6 bands). Participants were trained to discriminate between minimal (/Tisch/-FISCH) and identical word pairs (/Tisch/-TISCH) over a period of 3 d, and tDCS(anodal) was applied during the first 20 min of training. Perceptual sensitivity (d') for trained word pairs, and an equal number of untrained word pairs, was tested before and after training. Increases in d' indicate perceptual learning for untrained word pairs, and a combination of item-specific and perceptual learning for trained word pairs. Most notably for the lowest intelligibility level, perceptual learning occurred only when tDCS(anodal) was applied over left IFG. For trained pairs, improved d' was seen on all intelligibility levels regardless of tDCS intervention. Over left IPC, tDCS(anodal) did not modulate learning but instead introduced a response bias during training. Volunteers were more likely to respond "same," potentially indicating enhanced perceptual fusion of degraded auditory with undegraded written input. Our results supply first evidence that neural facilitation of higher-order language areas can induce perceptual learning of severely degraded speech.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Male
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*