Thinking outside the box with tDCS

A study conducted by Caroline Di Bernardi Luft and company at Queen Mary, University of London seemed to suggest tDCS applied over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) increased the brain's ability to think creatively--'outside the box'. Interestingly enough, a side effect of this stimulation was a decrease in working memory function during the stimulation.

60 subjects were given computer puzzles based around rearranging matchsticks to solve given problems, with there being 4 types of problems of varying levels of difficulty. The 60 subjects were given either 15 minutes of anodal, cathodal or sham (placebo) stimulation sessions. Subjects overall who received cathodal stimulation over the left DLPFC were able to solve more of the problems than the anodal and sham stimulation groups.

Luft and company theorized cathodal stimulation over the left DLPFC could help relax and even break mental constraints learned from experience--helping the subjects approach problems from more unique angles. This result also shows that certain valued cognition patterns--such as creative thinking--can benefit from inhibitory stimulation (cathodal) instead of excitatory (anodal). There is a downside to left DLPFC inhibition though; researchers found a decrease in working memory functionality in users receiving the inhibitory stimulation.

Nevertheless, these results show just how intricately related seemingly different cognitive functions are, and that it is only a matter of time before a deeper mechanistic understanding of tDCS is able to parse out all the subtle effects of different tDCS montages and parameters.

For more from the original article, visit TheGuardian.