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Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 06 June 2013 | http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00244

Enhancing performance in numerical magnitude processing and mental arithmetic using transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS)

Tobias U. Hauser1,2,3*, Stephanie Rotzer1, Roland H. Grabner4, Susan Mérillat1,5 and Lutz Jäncke1,3,5
  • 1Division Neuropsychology, Institute of Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2University Clinics for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 3Neuroscience Center Zurich, University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 4Georg-Elias-Müller-Institute of Psychology, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany
  • 5International Normal Aging and Plasticity Imaging Center, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

The ability to accurately process numerical magnitudes and solve mental arithmetic is of highest importance for schooling and professional career. Although impairments in these domains in disorders such as developmental dyscalculia (DD) are highly detrimental, remediation is still sparse. In recent years, transcranial brain stimulation methods such as transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) have been suggested as a treatment for various neurologic and neuropsychiatric disorders. The posterior parietal cortex (PPC) is known to be crucially involved in numerical magnitude processing and mental arithmetic. In this study, we evaluated whether tDCS has a beneficial effect on numerical magnitude processing and mental arithmetic. Due to the unclear lateralization, we stimulated the left, right as well as both hemispheres simultaneously in two experiments. We found that left anodal tDCS significantly enhanced performance in a number comparison and a subtraction task, while bilateral and right anodal tDCS did not induce any improvements compared to sham. Our findings demonstrate that the left PPC is causally involved in numerical magnitude processing and mental arithmetic. Furthermore, we show that these cognitive functions can be enhanced by means of tDCS. These findings encourage to further investigate the beneficial effect of tDCS in the domain of mathematics in healthy and impaired humans.

Keywords: mental arithmetic, numerical magnitude processing, transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), subtraction, number comparison, mathematics

Citation: Hauser TU, Rotzer S, Grabner RH, Mérillat S and Jäncke L (2013) Enhancing performance in numerical magnitude processing and mental arithmetic using transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS). Front. Hum. Neurosci. 7:244. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00244

Received: 22 March 2013; Accepted: 17 May 2013;
Published online: 06 June 2013.

Edited by:

John J. Foxe, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, USA

Reviewed by:

Tracy Vannorsdall, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, USA
Sven Wagner, University of Münster, Germany
Aurore Thibaut, University of Liège, Belgium

Copyright © 2013 Hauser, Rotzer, Grabner, Mérillat and Jäncke. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Tobias U. Hauser, University Clinics for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Zurich, Neumünsterallee 9, CH-8032 Zürich, Switzerland e-mail: tobias.hauser@kjpd.uzh.ch