Learning while multitasking: short and long-term benefits of brain stimulation

We employed a simulated production task that mimics the real-world skill acquisition required of operators working in control rooms of power plants to assess short and long-term effects of transcranial random noise stimulation (tRNS). tRNS has shown potential for enhancing learning and performance of cognitive skills. Forty subjects (24 female) learned how to execute the simulated production task during the training phase and were required to perform a secondary task during the skill acquisition phase while they received active (12 min) or sham tRNS on DLPFC. After 2 weeks they had to recall the task again without any stimulation. The results demonstrate that tRNS promoted better multitasking as reflected by better performance in a secondary task during and immediately after tRNS. However, 2 weeks later, beneficial effect of tRNS on retention was moderated by general mental ability. Particularly, tRNS benefited those with lower general mental ability.

Practitioner summary: By using a simulated production task, we assessed the effects of tRNS on learning and skill retention. The study indicates that neurostimulation can enhance the learning of multiple complex tasks. Moreover, it shows that retention of those tasks can be supported by neurostimulation, especially for those with lower general mental ability.