Transcranial direct current stimulation of right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex does not affect model-based or model-free reinforcement learning in humans

Peter Smittenaar, George Prichard, Thomas H B FitzGerald, Joern Diedrichsen, Raymond J Dolan

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There is broad consensus that the prefrontal cortex supports goal-directed, model-based decision-making. Consistent with this, we have recently shown that model-based control can be impaired through transcranial magnetic stimulation of right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in humans. We hypothesized that an enhancement of model-based control might be achieved by anodal transcranial direct current stimulation of the same region. We tested 22 healthy adult human participants in a within-subject, double-blind design in which participants were given Active or Sham stimulation over two sessions. We show Active stimulation had no effect on model-based control or on model-free ('habitual') control compared to Sham stimulation. These null effects are substantiated by a power analysis, which suggests that our study had at least 60% power to detect a true effect, and by a Bayesian model comparison, which favors a model of the data that assumes stimulation had no effect over models that assume stimulation had an effect on behavioral control. Although we cannot entirely exclude more trivial explanations for our null effect, for example related to (faults in) our experimental setup, these data suggest that anodal transcranial direct current stimulation over right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex does not improve model-based control, despite existing evidence that transcranial magnetic stimulation can disrupt such control in the same brain region.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere86850
JournalPLoS One
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2014


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Reinforcement (Psychology)
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

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