Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can enhance a range of neuropsychological functions but its efficacy in addressing clinically significant emotion recognition deficits associated with depression is largely untested.
A randomized crossover placebo controlled study was used to investigate the effects of tDCS over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (L-DLPFC) on a range of neuropsychological variables associated with depression as well as neural activity in the associated brain region. A series of computerized tests was administered to clinical (n = 17) and control groups (n = 20) during sham and anodal (1.5 mA) stimulation.
Anodal tDCS led to a significant main effect for overall emotion recognition (p = .02), with a significant improvement in the control group (p = .04). Recognition of disgust was significantly greater in the clinical group (p = .01). Recognition of anger was significantly improved for the clinical group (p = .04) during anodal stimulation. Differences between groups for each of the six emotions at varying levels of expression found that at 40% during anodal stimulation, happy recognition significantly improved for the clinical group (p = .01). Anger recognition at 80% during anodal stimulation significantly improved for the clinical group (p = .02). These improvements were observed in the absence of any change in psychomotor speed or trail making ability during anodal stimulation. Working memory significantly improved during anodal stimulation for the clinical group but not for controls (p = .03).
The tentative findings of this study indicate that tDCS can have a neuromodulatory effect on a range of neuropsychological variables. However, it is clear that there was a wide variation in responses to tDCS and that individual difference and different approaches to testing and stimulation have a significant impact on final outcomes. Nonetheless, tDCS remains a promising tool for future neuropsychological research.