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Rhythmic Noninvasive Brain Stimulation (NIBS): Investigating the causal role of neural oscillations for perceptual and cognitive processes

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Neural oscillations are assumed to play a crucial role for many perceptual and cognitive processes – nevertheless, scientific evidence is commonly of correlative nature, and a causal link between oscillatory processes and behavioral outcome is often lacking.

We can differentiate a causal from a ...

Neural oscillations are assumed to play a crucial role for many perceptual and cognitive processes – nevertheless, scientific evidence is commonly of correlative nature, and a causal link between oscillatory processes and behavioral outcome is often lacking.

We can differentiate a causal from a correlative relationship between two variables by disturbing the putative “cause” (e.g., oscillatory processes) without changing any other experimental factor that might influence the outcome (e.g., behavior). Thus, an appropriate approach to test the causal role of neural oscillations for perception and cognition would be to manipulate them externally and measure the (behavioral or perceptual) consequences. Recently, NIBS methods, in particular those involving periodic stimulation, have made this approach feasible: By applying a weak alternating current (transcranial alternating current stimulation, tACS) or repetitive magnetic pulses (rhythmic transcranial magnetic stimulation, rTMS) to the brain, an external rhythm can be imposed on neural oscillations.

In this Research Topic, we welcome NIBS research tackling the investigation of neural oscillations causally involved in perceptual and cognitive processes. We encourage a submission of papers in line with one (or more) of the following points:

1. Rhythmic NIBS and auditory perception: Most of the work addressing the role of neural oscillations for perception and cognition using NIBS has focused on the visual and motor domain. Although rhythm is an inherent feature of the auditory environment and the adjustment of neural oscillations to these periodicities seems to play a crucial role for auditory (e.g., speech) processing, relatively few studies have used NIBS in auditory research. Therefore, we particularly encourage studies dedicated to investigate the role of neural oscillations for auditory perception and cognition.

2. NIBS vs. sensory entrainment: Not only NIBS, but also rhythmic sensory stimulation can impose an external rhythm onto the brain; however, systematic comparisons of these approaches are rare. We welcome papers designed to determine whether and how the two methods differ and/or interact in their effectiveness to manipulate neural oscillations and/or perception and cognition.

3. Parameters of NIBS: Physiological and behavioral effects of NIBS commonly show a large intra- and inter-individual variability, raising concerns regarding efficacy and practicality of the stimulation. We need to deepen our knowledge of the relation between external stimulation parameters and internal oscillatory processes, thus increasing our ability to predict consequences of the stimulation on both a physiological and behavioral level. We encourage experimental or theoretical work specifically and systematically investigating the impact of NIBS on neural oscillations (along with its consequences for perception and cognition). Specifically, it needs to be determined how the interplay of subject-specific variables and external stimulation parameters, such as electrode size, orientation or location, duration, frequency, and intensity can predict immediate and prolonged consequences of the stimulation.

Together, these studies will bring us two important steps forward: First, we will develop a theoretical and practical framework for technical parameters of NIBS, towards a gold standard that future studies can build on. Second, we will foster our knowledge of the causal relation between neural oscillations and behavior, perception and cognition.


Keywords: neural oscillations, perception, noninvasive brain stimulation, transcranial alternative current stimulation, tacs, transcranial magnetic stimulation, tms, cognition, causality


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