Delayed enhancement of multitasking performance: Effects of anodal transcranial direct current stimulation on the prefrontal cortex

Cortex. 2015 Aug;69:175-85. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2015.05.014. Epub 2015 May 22.


Background: The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) has been proposed to play an important role in neural processes that underlie multitasking performance. However, this claim is underexplored in terms of direct causal evidence.

Objective: The current study aimed to delineate the causal involvement of the DLPFC during multitasking by modulating neural activity with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) prior to engagement in a demanding multitasking paradigm.

Methods: The study is a single-blind, crossover, sham-controlled experiment. Anodal tDCS or sham tDCS was applied over left DLPFC in forty-one healthy young adults (aged 18-35 years) immediately before they engaged in a 3-D video game designed to assess multitasking performance. Participants were separated into three subgroups: real-sham (i.e., real tDCS in the first session, followed by sham tDCS in the second session 1 h later), sham-real (sham tDCS first session, real tDCS second session), and sham-sham (sham tDCS in both sessions).

Results: The real-sham group showed enhanced multitasking performance and decreased multitasking cost during the second session, compared to first session, suggesting delayed cognitive benefits of tDCS. Interestingly, performance benefits were observed only for multitasking and not on a single-task version of the game. No significant changes were found between the first and second sessions for either the sham-real or the sham-sham groups.

Conclusions: These results suggest a causal role of left prefrontal cortex in facilitating the simultaneous performance of more than one task, or multitasking. Moreover, these findings reveal that anodal tDCS may have delayed benefits that reflect an enhanced rate of learning.

Keywords: Attention; Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; Multitasking; Transcranial direct current stimulation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation*
  • Young Adult