Parietal alpha-based inhibitory abilities are causally linked to numerosity discrimination

Behav Brain Res. 2020 Jun 1;387:112564. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2020.112564. Epub 2020 Feb 17.


Processing numerosities relies on the innate capacity to understand and manipulate the number of items in a set, and to additional abilities such as inhibitory skills -which are known to be linked to brain oscillations in the alpha range. Whether these inhibitory skills are causally linked to numerosity processing and critical for it is unclear. To address this question, we used alpha-based brain stimulation (transcranial alternate current stimulation, tACS) to target inhibitory abilities in the context of numerosity discrimination. Twenty-nine young adults received bilateral tACS to the parietal lobe, a brain region critical for numerical processes. tACS at target (alpha, 10 Hz), control oscillation frequencies (theta, 4 Hz; beta, 22 Hz; sham, no stimulation), and control areas (bilateral frontal regions) was paired to an established numerosity paradigm that allows distinguishing between congruent and incongruent numerosity trials, the latter requiring to inhibit task-irrelevant information. Performance significantly and specifically worsened in incongruent numerosity trials following bilateral parietal alpha-tACS relative to sham and to the other stimulations used, possibly due to the desynchronization of parietal neuronal oscillations in the alpha range. No significant changes in performance were observed in parietal beta and theta-tACS, relative to sham, nor in frontal alpha-tACS. Likewise, there were no changes in performing congruent numerosity trials. We therefore concluded that parietal alpha oscillations are causally linked to inhibitory abilities, and reinforced the view that these abilities are intrinsic to numerosity discrimination.

Keywords: Alpha oscillations; Inhibitory abilities; Numerosity; Parietal lobe; Transcranial alternate current stimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alpha Rhythm*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Mathematical Concepts*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation
  • Young Adult