Modifying cognition and behavior with electrical microstimulation: Implications for cognitive prostheses

Ioan Opris, Vincent P. Ferrera

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


A fundamental goal of cognitive neuroscience is to understand how brain activity generates complex mental states and behaviors. While neuronal activity may predict or correlate with behavioral responses in a cognitive task, the use of electrical microstimulation presents the possibility to augment such correlational findings with direct evidence for causal relationships. Although microstimulation has been used for many years as a tool for mapping sensory and motor function, its role in learning, memory and decision-making has emerged only recently. Focal microstimulation of higher cortical areas can produce complex mental states and sequences of action. However, the relationship between the locus of stimulation and the percepts or actions evoked is often stereotyped and inflexible. The challenge is to develop stimulation systems that do not have fixed output but can flexibly contribute to complex cognitive and behavioral tasks. We discuss how microstimulation has been instrumental in manipulating a wide spectrum of cognitive functions including working memory, perceptual decisions and executive control by enhancing attention, re-ordering temporal sequence of saccades, improving associative learning or cognitive performance. For example, stimulation in prefrontal, parietal and sensory cortices may establish causal effects on decision-making, while microstimulation of inferotemporal cortex or caudate nucleus enhances associative learning. Building cognitive prosthetics based on the insights gleaned from such studies may depend on the development of multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) devices that allow subjects to control stimulation with their own thoughts in a closed-loop system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-335
Number of pages15
JournalNeuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • CN
  • Caudate nucleus
  • Causal relationship
  • Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
  • FEF
  • Frontal eye field
  • IT
  • Inferotemporal cortex
  • Learning
  • MF
  • MT
  • Memory/movement field
  • Middle temporal visual area
  • Perception
  • RF
  • Receptive field
  • SEF
  • SMA
  • Supplementary eye field
  • Supplementary motor area
  • dlPFC

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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