Language is a highly important yet poorly understood function of the human brain. While studies of brain activation patterns during language comprehension are abundant, what is often critically missing is causal evidence of brain areas' involvement in a particular linguistic function, not least due to the unique human nature of this ability and a shortage of neurophysiological tools to study causal relationships in the human brain noninvasively. Recent years have seen a rapid rise in the use of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of the human brain, an easy, inexpensive and safe noninvasive technique that can modulate the state of the stimulated brain area (putatively by shifting excitation/ inhibition thresholds), enabling a study of its particular contribution to specific functions. While mostly focusing on motor control, the use of tDCS is becoming more widespread in both basic and clinical research on higher cognitive functions, language included, but the procedures for its application remain variable. Here, we describe the use of tDCS in a psycholinguistic word-learning experiment. We present the techniques and procedures for application of cathodal and anodal stimulation of core language areas of Broca and Wernicke in the left hemisphere of the human brain, describe the procedures of creating balanced sets of psycholinguistic stimuli, a controlled yet naturalistic learning regime, and a comprehensive set of techniques to assess the learning outcomes and tDCS effects. As an example of tDCS application, we show that cathodal stimulation of Wernicke's area prior to a learning session can impact word learning efficiency. This impact is both present immediately after learning and, importantly, preserved over longer time after the physical effects of stimulation wear off, suggesting that tDCS can have long-term influence on linguistic storage and representations in the human brain.
Scopus subject areas
- Chemical Engineering(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)