Obesity, subliminal perception and inhibition: Neuromodulation of the prefrontal cortex

Behav Res Ther. 2019 Aug;119:103408. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2019.05.005. Epub 2019 May 19.


The prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays a central role in food choice, and may be partly dysfunctional in obesity - a condition linked to altered attention and inhibition processes, particularly in response to food-related stimuli. We investigated the role of the PFC in subliminal visual processing and response inhibition to food pictures using anodal, cathodal, or sham transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in a sample of 53 normal weight, overweight, or obese participants. Subliminal processing was measured with a breaking continuous flash suppression task (bCFS), and inhibition with a Go/No-Go task. BMI was included in the analyses as a continuous predictor. Higher BMI was associated with prolonged subliminal processing for both food and nonfood pictures in the bCFS task, and with longer RTs in food Go trials in the Go/No-Go task. Therefore, higher BMI was associated with an attentional bias for food images during supraliminal, but not subliminal visual processing. Moreover, anodal tDCS resulted in shorter detection times in the bCFS task, especially in participants with higher BMI. We conclude that anodal tDCS affects subliminal perception and attentional processes, and speculate that these effects may explain previous reports of reduced craving and food intake after anodal tDCS.

Keywords: Attentional bias; Continuous flash suppression (CFS); Food; Go/No-Go; Obesity; Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attentional Bias / physiology*
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Overweight / psychology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Subliminal Stimulation*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult