Acute cognitive enhancement has been sought by healthy young individuals to improve academic and professional performance. Among several methods, physical exercise interventions and transcranial direct current brain stimulation (tDCS) have shown promise in impacting executive functions. Here, we observed a set of new findings about the causal effect of acute aerobic exercise and tDCS across three facets of executive function: Inhibition (as measured by a flanker task) was selectively impacted by acute aerobic exercise but not tDCS, whereas working memory (as measured by an n-back task) was impacted by both acute aerobic exercise and tDCS, with effects emerging on distinct processing components for each manipulation. Sustained attention (as measured by the Mackworth clock task), on the other hand, was not impacted by acute aerobic exercise or tDCS. Interestingly, no effects of combining acute aerobic exercise and tDCS emerged. We argue that understanding the unique and combined contributions of these cognitive enhancement techniques can not only contribute to a deeper mechanistic explanation in healthy individuals but also inform future research with clinical and aging populations.
- aerobic exercise
- working memory