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Blinding is compromised for transcranial direct current stimulation at 1 mA for 20 minutes in young healthy adults

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  • Zsolt Turi
  • Gábor Csifcsák
  • Nya Mehnwolo Boayue
  • Per Aslaksen
  • Andrea Antal
  • Walter Paulus
  • Josephine Groot
  • Guy E Hawkins
  • Birte Forstmann
  • Alexander Opitz
  • Axel Thielscher
  • Matthias Mittner
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Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive brain stimulation method that is frequently used to study cortical excitability changes and their impact on cognitive functions in humans. While most stimulators are capable of operating in double-blind mode, the amount of discomfort experienced during tDCS may break blinding. Therefore, specifically designed sham stimulation protocols are being used. The “fade-in, short-stimulation, fade-out” (FSF) protocol has been used in hundreds of studies and is commonly believed to be indistinguishable from real stimulation applied at 1 mA for 20 min. We analysed subjective reports of 192 volunteers, who either received real tDCS (n = 96) or FSF tDCS (n = 96). Participants reported more discomfort for real tDCS and correctly guessed the condition above chance-level. These findings indicate that FSF does not ensure complete blinding and that better active sham protocols are needed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Volume50
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)3261-3268
Number of pages8
ISSN0953-816X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

    Research areas

  • active sham tDCS, blinding, double-blinding, placebo, transcranial direct current stimulation

ID: 56850398