Effects of transcranial direct current stimulation on risky decision making are mediated by ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ decisions, personality, and hemisphere

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Abstract

Previous results point towards a lateralization of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) function in risky decision making. While the right hemisphere seems involved in inhibitory cognitive control of affective impulses, the left DLPFC is crucial in the deliberative processing of information relevant for the decision. However, a lack of empirical evidence precludes definitive conclusions. The aim of our study was to determine whether anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the right DLPFC with cathodal tDCS over the lDLPFC (anodal right/cathodal left) or vice versa (anodal left/cathodal right) differentially modulates risk-taking in a task [the Columbia Card Task (CCT)] specifically engaging affect-charged (Hot CCT) vs. deliberative (Cold CCT) decision making. The facilitating effect of the anodal stimulation on neuronal activity was emphasized by the use of a small anode and a big cathode. To investigate the role of individual differences in risk-taking, participants were either smokers or non-smokers. Anodal left/cathodal right stimulation decreased risk-taking in the ‘cold’ cognition version of the task, in both groups, probably by modulating deliberative processing. In the ‘hot’ version, anodal right/cathodal left stimulation led to opposite effects in smokers and non-smokers, which might be explained by the engagement of the same inhibitory control mechanism: in smokers, improved controllability of risk-seeking impulsivity led to more conservative decisions, while inhibition of risk-aversion in non-smokers resulted in riskier choices. These results provide evidence for a hemispheric asymmetry and personality-dependent tDCS effects in risky decision making, and may be important for clinical research on addiction and depression.

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