Anodal transcranial direct current stimulation over right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex alters decision making during approach-avoidance conflict

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2017 Mar 1;12(3):468-475. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw140.


Approach-avoidance conflict (AAC) refers to situations associated with both rewarding and threatening outcomes. The AAC task was developed to measure AAC decision-making. Approach behavior during this task has been linked to self-reported anxiety sensitivity and has elicited anterior cingulate, insula, caudate and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) activity, with right lateral PFC tracking the extent of approach behavior. Guided by these results, we used excitatory transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to demonstrate the causal involvement of right dlPFC in AAC decision-making. Participants received anodal tDCS at 1.5mA over either left or right dlPFC or sham stimulation, while performing the AAC task and a control short-term memory task. Analyses of variance (ANOVA) revealed that for individuals with high anxiety sensitivity excitatory right (but not left or sham) dlPFC stimulation elicited measurable decreases in approach behavior during conflict. Excitatory left (but not right or sham) dlPFC simulation improved performance on the control task. These results support a possible asymmetry between the contributions of right and left dlPFC to AAC resolution during emotional decision-making. Increased activity in right dlPFC may contribute to anxiety-related symptoms and, as such, serve as a neurobehavioral target of anxiolytic treatments aiming to decrease avoidance behavior.

Keywords: anxiety; approach-avoidance conflict; decision making; dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; transcranial direct current stimulation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Conflict, Psychological*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Reward
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation*
  • Young Adult