The effects of stress and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on working memory: A randomized controlled trial

Yael L.E. Ankri, Yoram Braw, Galia Luboshits, Oded Meiron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Recent reviews of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) show limited support for its initially cited enhancing effects on working memory (WM). They highlight the need for additional research, assessing the specific circumstances that optimize stimulation outcome. Social stress is an attractive candidate in this regard, as it affects WM and is mediated by prefrontal cortex activity; tDCS that targets these neuronal networks may, therefore, interact with social stress to affect WM. Our objective was to explore the interaction between social stress and tDCS on WM performance in a healthy cohort, 69 female participants were randomized to four experimental conditions (i.e., 2 × 2 design): stimulation (dlPFC tDCS vs. sham stimulation) and stress manipulation (Trier Social Stress Test [TSST] procedure vs. a friendly control TSST). Participants’ attention, WM (assessed using an n-back task), and subjective/objective indicators of stress were assessed. A significant Stimulation × Stress Manipulation interaction was found, F(1, 65) = 6.208, p =.015, suggesting that active tDCS may increase WM performance in the no-stress conditions, while decreasing it under stress. Follow-up analyses of variance, however, were not significant (i.e., ps=.083 /.093), and Bayesian analyses were inconclusive. In conclusion, stress seems to be a crucial factor in determining the effects of tDCS, and tDCS may have an enhancing effect on WM at lower levels of stress, while being detrimental at higher stress levels (i.e., reversing the direction of effect). Possible theoretical underpinnings of the findings are discussed, while acknowledging the need for further research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-114
Number of pages12
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC)
  • Social stress
  • Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)
  • Trier Social Stress Test (TSST)
  • Working memory (WM)
  • n-Back task


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