Offline transcranial direct current stimulation improves the ability to perceive crowded targets.


Chen G(1)(2)(3)(4), Zhu Z(1)(2)(3)(5), He Q(1)(2)(3)(6), Fang F(1)(2)(3)(7).
Author information:
(1)School of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences and Beijing Key Laboratory of Behavior and Mental Health, Peking University, Beijing, People's Republic of China.
(2)IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Peking University, Beijing, People's Republic of China.
(3)Peking-Tsinghua Center for Life Sciences, Peking University, Beijing, People's Republic of China. [Email] [Email] [Email] [Email]


The deleterious effect of nearby flankers on target identification in the periphery is known as visual crowding. Studying visual crowding can advance our understanding of the mechanisms of visual awareness and object recognition. Alleviating visual crowding is one of the major ways to improve peripheral vision. The aim of the current study was to examine whether transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) was capable of alleviating visual crowding at different visual eccentricities and with different visual tasks. In the present single-blind sham-controlled study, subjects were instructed to perform an orientation discrimination task or a letter identification task with isolated and crowded targets in the periphery, before and after applying 20 minutes of 2 mA anodal tDCS to visual cortex of the hemisphere contralateral or ipsilateral to visual stimuli. Contralateral tDCS significantly alleviated the orientation crowding effect at two different eccentricities and the letter crowding effect. This alleviation was absent after sham or ipsilateral stimulation and could not be fully explained by the performance improvement with the isolated targets. These findings demonstrated that offline tDCS was effective in alleviating visual crowding across different visual eccentricities and tasks, therefore providing a promising way to improve spatial vision rapidly in crowded scenes.