Does non-invasive brain stimulation modulate emotional stress reactivity?

Fenne M Smits, Dennis J L G Schutter, Jack van Honk, Elbert Geuze

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Excessive emotional responses to stressful events can detrimentally affect psychological functioning and mental health. Recent studies have provided evidence that non-invasive brain stimulation (NBS) targeting the prefrontal cortex (PFC) can affect the regulation of stress-related emotional responses. However, the reliability and effect sizes have not been systematically analyzed. In the present study, we reviewed and meta-analyzed the effects of repetitive transcranial magnetic (rTMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the PFC on acute emotional stress reactivity in healthy individuals. Forty sham-controlled single-session rTMS and tDCS studies were included. Separate random effects models were performed to estimate the mean effect sizes of emotional reactivity. Twelve rTMS studies together showed no evidence that rTMS over the PFC influenced emotional reactivity. Twenty-six anodal tDCS studies yielded a weak beneficial effect on stress-related emotional reactivity (Hedges' g = -0.16, CI 95% = [-0.33, 0.00]). These findings suggest that a single session of NBS is insufficient to induce reliable, clinically significant effects but also provide preliminary evidence that specific NBS methods can affect emotional reactivity. This may motivate further research into augmenting the efficacy of NBS protocols on stress-related processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-51
Number of pages29
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number1
Early online date28 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2020


  • emotion
  • repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • review
  • stress
  • transcranial direct current stimulation


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