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Study Concerns Whether Brain Stimulation Improves Memory

The effectiveness of non-invasive brain stimulation treatments for enhancing visual working memory has been questioned by a University of Sheffield study.

The study, which was published in Communications Psychology, defies earlier conclusions made on the subject and emphasizes the necessity of interpreting brain stimulation treatments with caution.

An essential component of human cognition is visual working memory, which is in charge of momentarily storing visual information for cognitive processing. Researchers have long looked on ways to improve working memory. Over the past 20 years, non-invasive brain stimulation techniques, such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), have become increasingly promising.

Working memory is one cognitive function that deteriorates with age in both healthy people and diseases like Alzheimer’s. Many believe that brain stimulation offers a viable supplementary strategy to halt cognitive deterioration.

The goal of the study, which was directed by Dr. Shuangke Jiang of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology, was to confirm a prior discovery that suggested non-invasive brain stimulation had significant positive effects on human working memory.

The study, which was co-authored by Drs. Myles Jones and Claudia von Bastian from the University’s Department of Psychology, discovered that there was conflicting evidence about how well tDCS improved memory. Instead, after a single “dose” of 15-minute stimulation, researchers showed compelling evidence that the advantages of tDCS on memory improvement are not real.

“The low-cost and easy-to-use tDCS is similar to a TENS machine you might use for back pain relief,” stated Dr. Shuangke Jiang. “Multiple sessions of tDCS can be effective for a range of conditions and are already in NICE guidelines for depression. A single ‘dose’ of tDCS is reported to have wide ranging effects on psychological functions as diverse as socialization and memory.”

“A particularly high profile study suggested that brief tDCS could improve working memory—a temporary memory store that allows us to manipulate information. We have replicated this study with improved methodology and found unequivocal evidence that tDCS does not improve working memory.”

The findings of the study highlight the difficulties in determining whether brain stimulation methods are beneficial for improving cognitive function. They stress the significance of doing thorough replication studies in psychology to confirm the validity and dependability of these kinds of interventions.

Dr. Shuangke Jiang continued, “Our research highlights the critical importance of conducting replications to investigate the effectiveness of interventions, like tDCS, to enhance cognition. Replications catalyze a robust and informative body of evidence on the ‘true’ effects, and therefore contribute to addressing the replication crisis in Psychology.”

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