Neuromodulation of Spatial Associations: Evidence from Choice Reaction Tasks During Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

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Dokumentart: PhDThesis
Date: 2020-04-10
Language: English
Faculty: 7 Mathematisch-Naturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Department: Psychologie
Advisor: Plewnia, Christian (Prof. Dr.)
Day of Oral Examination: 2018-04-11
DDC Classifikation: 150 - Psychology
Keywords: Neurowissenschaften
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Various portions of human behavior and cognition are influenced by covert implicit processes without being necessarily available to intentional planning. Implicit cognitive biases can be measured in behavioral tasks yielding SNARC effects for spatial associations of numerical and non-numerical sequences, or yielding the implicit association test effect for associations between insect-flower and negative-positive categories. By using concurrent neuromodulation with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), subthreshold activity patterns in prefrontal cortical regions can be experimentally manipulated to reduce implicit processing. Thus, the application of tDCS can test neurocognitive hypotheses on a unique neurocognitive origin of implicit cognitive biases in different spatial-numerical and non-numerical domains. However, the effects of tDCS are not only determined by superimposed electric fields, but also by task characteristics. To outline the possibilities of task-specific targeting of tDCS, task characteristics and instructions can be varied systematically when combined with neuromodulation. In the present thesis, implicit cognitive processes are assessed in different paradigms concurrent to left-hemispheric prefrontal tDCS to investigate a verbal processing hypothesis for implicit associations in general. In psychological experiments, simple choice reaction tasks measure implicit SNARC and SNARC-like effects as relative left-hand vs. right-hand latency advantages for responding to smaller number or ordinal sequence targets. However, different combinations of polarity-dependent tDCS with stimuli and task procedures also reveal domain-specific involvements and dissociations. Discounting previous unified theories on the SNARC effect, polarity-specific neuromodulation effects dissociate numbers and weekday or month ordinal sequences. By considering also previous results and patient studies, I present a hybrid and augmented working memory account and elaborate the linguistic markedness correspondence principle as one critical verbal mechanism among competing covert coding mechanisms. Finally, a general stimulation rationale based on verbal working memory is tested in separate experiments extending also to non-spatial implicit association test effects. Regarding cognitive tDCS effects, the present studies show polarity asymmetry and task-induced activity dependence of state-dependent neuromodulation. At large, distinct combinations of the identical tDCS electrode configuration with different tasks influences behavioral outcomes tremendously, which will allow for improved task- and domain-specific targeting.

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