Rethinking the role of sham TMS

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Abstract

Sham transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) approaches are widely used in basic and clinical research to ensure that observed effects are due to the intended neural manipulation instead of being caused by various possible side effects. We here critically discuss several methodological aspects of sham TMS. Importantly, we propose to carefully distinguish between the placebo versus sensory side effects of TMS. In line with this conceptual distinction, we describe current limitations of sham TMS approaches in the context of placebo effects and blinding success, followed by a short review of our own work demonstrating that the sensory side effects of sham TMS are not unspecific as often falsely assumed. Lastly, we argue that sham TMS approaches are inherently insufficient as full-fledged control conditions as they fail to demonstrate the specificity of TMS effects to a particular brain area or time point of stimulation. Sham TMS should therefore only complement alternative control strategies in TMS research.
Original languageEnglish
Article number210
Number of pages5
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26 Feb 2015

Keywords

  • transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • sham TMS
  • side effects
  • placebo
  • control condition
  • TRANSCRANIAL MAGNETIC STIMULATION
  • FOCAL ELECTRICAL-STIMULATION
  • COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE
  • CONTROLLED TRIALS
  • MAJOR DEPRESSION
  • METAANALYSIS
  • BRAIN
  • NOISE
  • FIELD
  • RTMS

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