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. 2015 Jul;42(1):1667-74.
doi: 10.1111/ejn.12947. Epub 2015 Jun 15.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation of the Posterior Parietal Cortex Modulates Arithmetic Learning

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Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation of the Posterior Parietal Cortex Modulates Arithmetic Learning

Roland H Grabner et al. Eur J Neurosci. .

Abstract

The successful acquisition of arithmetic skills is an essential step in the development of mathematical competencies and has been associated with neural activity in the left posterior parietal cortex (PPC). It is unclear, however, whether this brain region plays a causal role in arithmetic skill acquisition and whether arithmetic learning can be modulated by means of non-invasive brain stimulation of this key region. In the present study we addressed these questions by applying transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the left PPC during a short-term training that simulates the typical path of arithmetic skill acquisition (specifically the transition from effortful procedural to memory-based problem-solving strategies). Sixty participants received either anodal, cathodal or sham tDCS while practising complex multiplication and subtraction problems. The stability of the stimulation-induced learning effects was assessed in a follow-up test 24 h after the training. Learning progress was modulated by tDCS. Cathodal tDCS (compared with sham) decreased learning rates during training and resulted in poorer performance which lasted over 24 h after stimulation. Anodal tDCS showed an operation-specific improvement for subtraction learning. Our findings extend previous studies by demonstrating that the left PPC is causally involved in arithmetic learning (and not only in arithmetic performance) and that even a short-term tDCS application can modulate the success of arithmetic knowledge acquisition. Moreover, our finding of operation-specific anodal stimulation effects suggests that the enhancing effects of tDCS on learning can selectively affect just one of several cognitive processes mediated by the stimulated area.

Keywords: arithmetic; human; mathematics learning; posterior parietal cortex; transcranial direct current stimulation.

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