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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Errorless and errorful learning modulated by transcranial direct current stimulation

Anke Hammer1, Bahram Mohammadi12, Marlen Schmicker3, Sina Saliger1 and Thomas F Münte1*

Author Affiliations

1 Dept. of Neurology, University of Lübeck, Ratzeburger Allee 160, 23538 Lübeck, Germany

2 Neurology, International Neuroscience Institute (INI), Rudolf-Pichlmayr-Straße 4, 30625, Hannover, Germany

3 Institute of Medical Psychology, Otto-von-Guericke University, Leipziger Straße 44, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2011, 12:72  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-12-72

Published: 22 July 2011

Abstract

Background

Errorless learning is advantageous over trial and error learning (errorful learning) as errors are avoided during learning resulting in increased memory performance. Errorful learning challenges the executive control system of memory processes as the erroneous items compete with the correct items during retrieval. The left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) is a core region involved in this executive control system. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can modify the excitability of underlying brain functioning.

Results

In a single blinded tDCS study one group of young healthy participants received anodal and another group cathodal tDCS of the left DLPFC each compared to sham stimulation. Participants had to learn words in an errorless and an errorful manner using a word stem completion paradigm. The results showed that errorless compared to errorful learning had a profound effect on the memory performance in terms of quality. Anodal stimulation of the left DLPFC did not modulate the memory performance following errorless or errorful learning. By contrast, cathodal stimulation hampered memory performance after errorful learning compared to sham, whereas there was no modulation after errorless learning.

Conclusions

Concluding, the study further supports the advantages of errorless learning over errorful learning. Moreover, cathodal stimulation of the left DLPFC hampered memory performance following the conflict-inducing errorful learning as compared to no modulation after errorless learning emphasizing the importance of the left DLPFC in executive control of memory.