Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A technique for enhancing error awareness in older age.

Harty et al. note yet another salutary effect of transcranial direct current stimulation. A small voltage applied across the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex enhances error awareness (by 10-12%) in older people. Their studies were done on 106 healthy oder adults 65-86 years of were recruited for four separate experiments. They used.
...a Go/No-go response inhibition task in which subjects are presented with a serial stream of single-color words, with congruency between the semantic meaning of the word and its font color manipulated across trials. Subjects were trained to respond with a single-speeded left mouse button press in situations where the meaning of the word and the font color in which it was presented were congruent (Go trial) and to withhold this response when either of two different scenarios arose: (1) when the word presented on the current trial was the same as that presented on the preceding trial (Repeat No-go trial), and (2) when the meaning of the word and its font color did not match (Stroop No-go trial). In the event of a commission error (failure to withhold to either of these No-go trials), subjects were trained to signal their “awareness” by making a speeded right mouse button press... Stimulation was delivered by a battery-driven DC Brain Stimulator Plus (NeuroConn), through a pair of 35 cm2 saline-soaked sponge electrodes. Current strength was 1 mA in all experiments. This produced current densities of 0.028 mA/cm2 at the skin surface of the scalp...In all four experiments, subjects underwent both Real and Sham tDCS in a single-blind, crossover manner.
Their abstract:
The ability to detect errors during cognitive performance is compromised in older age and in a range of clinical populations. This study was designed to assess the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on error awareness in healthy older human adults. tDCS was applied over DLPFC while subjects performed a computerized test of error awareness. The influence of current polarity (anodal vs cathodal) and electrode location (left vs right hemisphere) was tested in a series of separate single-blind, Sham-controlled crossover trials, each including 24 healthy older adults (age 65–86 years). Anodal tDCS over right DLPFC was associated with a significant increase in the proportion of performance errors that were consciously detected, and this result was recapitulated in a separate replication experiment. No such improvements were observed when the homologous contralateral area was stimulated. The present study provides novel evidence for a causal role of right DLPFC regions in subserving error awareness and marks an important step toward developing tDCS as a tool for remediating the performance-monitoring deficits that afflict a broad range of populations.

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