The Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) on Multitasking Throughput Capacity

Front Hum Neurosci. 2016 Nov 29;10:589. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00589. eCollection 2016.


Background: Multitasking has become an integral attribute associated with military operations within the past several decades. As the amount of information that needs to be processed during these high level multitasking environments exceeds the human operators' capabilities, the information throughput capacity reaches an asymptotic limit. At this point, the human operator can no longer effectively process and respond to the incoming information resulting in a plateau or decline in performance. The objective of the study was to evaluate the efficacy of a non-invasive brain stimulation technique known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied to a scalp location over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (lDLPFC) to improve information processing capabilities during a multitasking environment. Methods: The study consisted of 20 participants from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (16 male and 4 female) with an average age of 31.1 (SD = 4.5). Participants were randomly assigned into two groups, each consisting of eight males and two females. Group one received 2 mA of anodal tDCS and group two received sham tDCS over the lDLPFC on their testing day. Results: The findings indicate that anodal tDCS significantly improves the participants' information processing capability resulting in improved performance compared to sham tDCS. For example, the multitasking throughput capacity for the sham tDCS group plateaued near 1.0 bits/s at the higher baud input (2.0 bits/s) whereas the anodal tDCS group plateaued near 1.3 bits/s. Conclusion: The findings provided new evidence that tDCS has the ability to augment and enhance multitasking capability in a human operator. Future research should be conducted to determine the longevity of the enhancement of transcranial direct current stimulation on multitasking performance, which has yet to be accomplished.

Keywords: dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC); information throughput capacity; multi-attribute task battery (MATB); multitasking; transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).