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

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*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Abstract

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive brain stim-ulation 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 ex-perienced 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 com-monly believed to be indistinguishable from real stimulation applied at 1 mA for 20 minutes. We analyzed 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. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Volume50
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)3261-3268
ISSN0953-816X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Keywords

  • tDCS
  • Active sham
  • Blinding
  • Double-blinding
  • Placebo

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