Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to dorsolateral prefrontal cortex influences perceived pleasantness of food

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Center for Interdisciplinary Population and Health Research

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The ability to regulate the intake of unhealthy foods is critical in modern, calorie dense food environments. Frontal areas of the brain, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), are thought to play a central role in cognitive control and emotional regulation. Therefore, increasing activity in the DLPFC may enhance these functions which could improve the ability to reappraise and resist consuming highly palatable but unhealthy foods. One technique for modifying brain activity is transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a non-invasive technique for modulating neuronal excitability that can influence performance on a range of cognitive tasks. We tested whether anodal tDCS targeting the right DLPFC would influence how people perceived highly palatable foods. In the present study, 98 participants were randomly assigned to receive a single session of active tDCS (2.0 mA) or sham stimulation. While receiving active or sham stimulation, participants viewed images of highly palatable foods and reported how pleasant it would be to eat each food (liking) and how strong their urge was to eat each food (wanting). We found that participants who received active versus sham tDCS stimulation perceived food as less pleasant, but there was no difference in how strong their urge was to eat the foods. Our findings suggest that modulating excitability in the DLPFC influences "liking" but not "wanting" of highly palatable foods. Non-invasive brain stimulation might be a useful technique for influencing the hedonic experience of eating but more work is needed to understand when and how it influences food cravings.



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