Hemisphere-specific effects of prefrontal theta-burst stimulation on visual recognition memory accuracy and awareness

Ivan Carbajal, Jonathan T. O’Neil, Robert T. Palumbo, Joel L. Voss, Anthony J. Ryals*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: The prefrontal cortex has been implicated in episodic memory and the awareness of memory. Few studies have probed the nature and necessity of its role via brain stimulation. There are uncertainties regarding whether the hemisphere of stimulation predicts effects on memory and whether effects of stimulation are format-specific, with most previous studies utilizing verbal/semantic stimuli. Objective: Our primary objective was to determine if theta-burst transcranial magnetic stimulation (TBS) to prefrontal cortex modulates visual memory accuracy, visual memory awareness, or both, and whether these effects depend on brain hemisphere. Methods: We administered TBS to 12 individuals in either left prefrontal, right prefrontal, or a sham location on three separate days. We then administered a visual associative-memory task incorporating global-level awareness judgments and feeling-of-knowing (FOK) judgments on test trials for which retrieval failed. Results: Overall memory accuracy significantly improved after right hemisphere TBS compared to sham. Simultaneously, subjects were relatively underconfident after right TBS, suggesting minimal awareness of memory accuracy improvements. The correspondence between FOKs and later recognition accuracy suggested a pattern of disruption in prospective memory monitoring accuracy after left TBS. Conclusions: Our findings provide unique evidence for improved visual memory accuracy after right prefrontal TBS. These results also suggest right prefrontal lateralization for visual memory and left-hemisphere specialization for item-level prospective memory awareness judgments. Taken together, these results provided continued support for noninvasive stimulation to prefrontal cortex as a means of potentially improving memory and causally influencing prospective memory awareness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01228
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • TMS
  • brain stimulation
  • feeling-of-knowing
  • memory accuracy
  • metamemory
  • visual recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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