Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex affects stimulus conflict but not response conflict

Neuroscience. 2016 May 13;322:320-5. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.02.046. Epub 2016 Feb 26.


When the human brain encounters a conflict, performance is often impaired. Two tasks that are widely used to induce and measure conflict-related interference are the Eriksen flanker task, whereby the visual target stimulus is flanked by congruent or incongruent distractors, and the Simon task, where the location of the required spatial response is either congruent or incongruent with the location of the target stimulus. Interestingly, both tasks share the characteristic of inducing response conflict but only the flanker task induces stimulus conflict. We used a non-invasive brain stimulation technique to explore the role of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in dealing with conflict in the Eriksen flanker and Simon tasks. In different sessions, participants received anodal, cathodal, or sham transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) (2 mA, 20 min) on the right DLPFC while performing these tasks. The results indicate that cathodal tDCS over the right DLPFC increased the flanker interference effect while having no impact on the Simon effect. This finding provides empirical support for the role of the right DLPFC in stimulus-stimulus rather than stimulus-response conflict, which suggests the existence of multiple, domain-specific control mechanisms underlying conflict resolution. In addition, methodologically, the study also demonstrates the way in which brain stimulation techniques can reveal subtle yet important differences between experimental paradigms that are often assumed to tap into a single process.

Keywords: DLPFC; Eriksen flanker effect; Simon effect; brain stimulation; cognitive control; tDCS.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / methods*
  • Young Adult