Modulating risk-taking behavior with theta-band tACS
Although risk is prevalent in decision-making, the specific neural processes underlying risk-taking behavior remain unclear. Previous studies have suggested that frontal theta-band activity plays a crucial role in modulating risk-taking behavior. The functional relevance of theta in risk-taking behavior is yet to be clearly established and studies using noninvasive brain stimulation have yielded inconsistent findings. We aimed to investigate this relevance using transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) over right or left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). We also studied the influence of stimulation intensity on risk-taking behavior and electrophysiological effects.
We applied theta-band (6.5 Hz) tACS over the left (F3) and right (F4) DLPFC with lower (1.5 mA) and higher (3 mA) tACS intensities. We employed a single-blinded, sham-controlled, within-subject design and combined tACS with electroencephalography (EEG) measurements and the Maastricht Gambling Task (MGT) to elicit and evaluate risk-taking behavior.
Our results show an increase in risk-taking behavior after left DLPFC stimulation at both intensities and a reduction of risk-taking behavior after 3 mA (and not 1.5 mA) right DLPFC stimulation compared to sham. Further analyses showed a negative correlation between resting-state frontal theta-power and risk-taking behavior. Overall, frontal theta-power was increased after left, but not right, theta-band tACS independent of stimulation intensity.
Our findings confirm the functional relevance of frontal theta-band activity in decision-making under risk and the differential role of left and right DLPFC. We also were able to show that stimulation intensity did have an effect on behavioral responses, namely risk-taking behavior. Significant right hemisphere stimulation effects were observed only after high-intensity stimulation. Nevertheless, electrophysiological effects were only significant after left DLPFC stimulation, regardless of tACS intensity. Furthermore, the results indicate the role of the
baseline frontal theta-power in the direction of behavioral effects after theta-band tACS.