Attention lapses refer to transient periods of off-task performance characterized by processing delays and errors across a range of cognitive tasks and everyday activities. Attention lapsing is a feature of a number of mental health disorders, including depression, ADHD and schizophrenia. Lapsing contributes significantly to cognitive impairments in these disorders. Here we aim to test a theoretical model in which attention lapses are regulated by the suite of cognitive control functions mediated by the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Increased cognitive control demands on a variety of tasks have been tightly linked to coordinated neural activity in the theta frequency band (4-7 Hz) using electrophysiology (EEG). We hypothesize that stimulation of the PFC will enhance control-related theta activity and attentional control, leading to fewer attention lapses and improved cognitive performance. Attention lapses will be measured both behaviorally and by coordinated neural activity in the alpha frequency band (8-12 Hz). We propose to test these hypotheses using a within-participants, double-blind design that will measure behavioral and EEG theta- and alpha-band measures of cognitive control and attention lapses following active PFC-targeted transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), compared to Sham and Active Control stimulation (targeting occipital cortex, a region not hypothesized to support attentional control). We further propose to test our model of PFC-mediated attentional control by assessing individual differences in tDCS effects, using structural neuroimaging and computational modeling of current flow. This proposal has two specific aims.
Aim 1 : Test an expanded model of cognitive control by evaluating the impact of PFC-targeted tDCS on frontal theta oscillations (4-7 Hz) related to cognitive control and alpha oscillations (8-12 Hz) related to attention lapses.
Aim 2 : Test an expanded model of cognitive control using biologically-realistic modeling to assess individual differences in tDCS effects. The proposed work contains several key theoretical and technical innovations, including the conceptualization of attentional control as a PFC-mediated executive function, the use of an active control condition and the focus on the neural underpinnings of attention lapses. This project will provide unique data towards our understanding of how coordinated neural activity in the theta and alpha bands is related to lapsing and the extent to which the electrophysiological patterns supporting attentional control can be modified using non-invasive neurostimulation targeting the prefrontal cognitive control system. This would be of substantial value both to the neurostimulation research community and, as lapsing is a core feature of psychopathology in many psychiatric disorders, to mental health research more broadly.

Public Health Relevance

Lapses in attention to a task, also known as mind-wandering, contribute to poor performance in a range of everyday activities and increased rates of attention lapsing are a feature of a number of mental health disorders, including depression, ADHD and schizophrenia. A better understanding of the neural basis of attention lapsing and of the extent to which it can be improved is therefore expected to inform the development of more effective treatments and assessments for a broad range of mental health disorders. The proposed research tests a model in which lapses are considered to be failures of executive control functions that are supported by the prefrontal cortex, using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a non-invasive brain stimulation method and electrophysiology (EEG) to measure coordinated neural activity in the theta (4-7 Hz) and alpha (8-12 Hz) frequency bands as well as behavioral measures of cognitive control and attention lapses.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Study Section (LAM)
Program Officer
Rossi, Andrew
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of California Santa Cruz
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Santa Cruz
United States
Zip Code