Switching Off Perceptual Learning: Anodal Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) at Fp3 Eliminates Perceptual Learning in Humans

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Abstract

Perceptual learning can be acquired as a result of experience with stimuli that would otherwise be difficult to tell apart, and is often explained in terms of the modulation of feature salience by an error signal based on how well that feature can be predicted by the others that make up the stimulus. In this article we show that anodal transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) at Fp3 directly influences this modulation process so as to eliminate and possibly reverse perceptual learning. In 2 experiments, anodal stimulation disrupted perceptual learning (indexed by an inversion effect) compared with sham (Experiment 1) or cathodal (Experiment 2) stimulation. Our findings can be interpreted as showing that anodal tDCS severely reduced or even abolished the modulation of salience based on error, greatly increasing generalization between stimuli. This result supports accounts of perceptual learning based on variations in salience as a consequence of pre-exposure, and opens up the possibility of controlling this phenomenon.

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