Enhancing decision-making and cognitive impulse control with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied over the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC): A randomized and sham-controlled exploratory study

J Psychiatr Res. 2015 Oct:69:27-34. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.07.018. Epub 2015 Jul 17.


Background: Decision-making and impulse control (both cognitive and motor) are complex interrelated processes which rely on a distributed neural network that includes multiple cortical and subcortical regions. Among them, the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) seems to be particularly relevant as demonstrated by several neuropsychological and neuroimaging investigations.

Methods: In the present study we assessed whether transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied bilaterally over the OFC is able to modulate decision-making and cognitive impulse control. More specifically, 45 healthy subjects were randomized to receive a single 30-min session of active or sham anodal tDCS (1.5 mA) applied over either the left or the right OFC (coupled with contralateral cathodal tDCS). They were also assessed pre- and post-tDCS with a battery of computerized tasks.

Results: Our results show that participants who received active anodal tDCS (irrespective of laterality), vs. those who received sham tDCS, displayed more advantageous decision-making (i.e., increased Iowa Gambling Task "net scores" [p = 0.04]), as well as improved cognitive impulse control (i.e., decreased "interference" in the Stroop Word-Colour Task [p = 0.007]). However, we did not observe tDCS-related effects on mood (assessed by visual analogue scales), attentional levels (assessed by the Continuous Performance Task) or motor impulse control (assessed by the Stop-Signal Task).

Conclusions: Our study potentially serves as a key translational step towards the development of novel non-invasive neuromodulation-based therapeutic interventions directly targeting vulnerability factors for psychiatric conditions such as suicidal behaviour and addiction.

Keywords: Decision-making; Impulse control; Neuromodulation; Orbitofrontal cortex; Transcranial direct current stimulation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Gambling / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation* / methods
  • Young Adult