A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on episodic memory

Brain Stimul. Mar-Apr 2019;12(2):231-241. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2018.11.008. Epub 2018 Nov 17.


Background: In the past decade, several studies have examined the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on long-term episodic memory formation and retrieval. These studies yielded conflicting results, likely due to differences in stimulation parameters, experimental design and outcome measures.

Objectives: In this work we aimed to assess the robustness of tDCS effects on long-term episodic memory using a meta-analytical approach.

Methods: We conducted four meta-analyses to analyse the effects of anodal and cathodal tDCS on memory accuracy and response times. We also used a moderator analysis to examine whether the size of tDCS effects varied as a function of specific stimulation parameters and experimental conditions.

Results: Although all selected studies reported a significant effect of tDCS in at least one condition in the published paper, the results of the four meta-analyses showed only statistically non-significant close-to-zero effects. A moderator analysis suggested that for anodal tDCS, the duration of the stimulation and the task used to probe memory moderated the effectiveness of tDCS. For cathodal tDCS, site of stimulation was a significant moderator, although this result was based on only a few observations.

Conclusions: To warrant theoretical advancement and practical implications, more rigorous research is needed to fully understand whether tDCS reliably modulates episodic memory, and the specific circumstances under which this modulation does, and does not, occur.

Keywords: Episodic memory; Long-term memory; Meta-analysis; Non-invasive brain stimulation; Recall; Recognition; Transcranial direct current stimulation.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Memory, Long-Term*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Reaction Time
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / adverse effects*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation / methods