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Keywords:

  • brain stimulation;
  • ethics;
  • transcranial alternating current stimulation;
  • transcranial direct current stimulation;
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation

Abstract

A range of techniques are now available for modulating the activity of the brain in healthy people and people with neurological conditions. These techniques, including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial current stimulation (tCS, which includes direct and alternating current), create magnetic or electrical fields that cross the intact skull and affect neural processing in brain areas near to the scalp location where the stimulation is delivered. TMS and tCS have proved to be valuable tools in behavioural neuroscience laboratories, where causal involvement of specific brain areas in specific tasks can be shown. In clinical neuroscience, the techniques offer the promise of correcting abnormal activity, such as when a stroke leaves a brain area underactive. As the use of brain stimulation becomes more commonplace in laboratories and clinics, we discuss the safety and ethical issues inherent in using the techniques with human participants, and we suggest how to balance scientific integrity with the safety of the participant.