The Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) on the Cognitive Functions: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Neuropsychol Rev. 2023 Dec 7. doi: 10.1007/s11065-023-09627-x. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Previous studies have investigated the effect of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on cognitive functions. However, these studies reported inconsistent results due to differences in experiment design, measurements, and stimulation parameters. Nonetheless, there is a lack of meta-analyses and review studies on tDCS and its impact on cognitive functions, including working memory, inhibition, flexibility, and theory of mind. We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of tDCS studies published from the earliest available data up to October 2021, including studies reporting the effects of tDCS on cognitive functions in human populations. Therefore, these systematic review and meta-analysis aim to comprehensively analyze the effects of anodal and cathodal tDCS on cognitive functions by investigating 69 articles with a total of 5545 participants. Our study reveals significant anodal tDCS effects on various cognitive functions. Specifically, we observed improvements in working memory reaction time (RT), inhibition RT, flexibility RT, theory of mind RT, working memory accuracy, theory of mind accuracy and flexibility accuracy. Furthermore, our findings demonstrate noteworthy cathodal tDCS effects, enhancing working memory accuracy, inhibition accuracy, flexibility RT, flexibility accuracy, theory of mind RT, and theory of mind accuracy. Notably, regarding the influence of stimulation parameters of tDCS on cognitive functions, the results indicated significant differences across various aspects, including the timing of stimulation (online vs. offline studies), population type (clinical vs. healthy studies), stimulation duration (< 15 min vs. > 15 min), electrical current intensities (1-1.5 m.A vs. > 1.5 m.A), stimulation sites (right frontal vs. left frontal studies), age groups (young vs. older studies), and different cognitive tasks in each cognitive functioning aspect. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that tDCS can effectively enhance cognitive task performance, offering valuable insights into the potential benefits of this method for cognitive improvement.

Keywords: Brain stimulation; Executive functions; Flexibility; Inhibition; Meta-analysis; Theory of mind; Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS); Working memory.

Publication types

  • Review