Lasers in Medical Science

, Volume 31, Issue 6, pp 1151–1160 | Cite as

Cognitive enhancement by transcranial laser stimulation and acute aerobic exercise

  • Jungyun Hwang
  • Darla M. Castelli
  • F. Gonzalez-LimaEmail author
Original Article


This is the first randomized, controlled study comparing the cognitive effects of transcranial laser stimulation and acute aerobic exercise on the same cognitive tasks. We examined whether transcranial infrared laser stimulation of the prefrontal cortex, acute high-intensity aerobic exercise, or the combination may enhance performance in sustained attention and working memory tasks. Sixty healthy young adults were randomly assigned to one of the following four treatments: (1) low-level laser therapy (LLLT) with infrared laser to two forehead sites while seated (total 8 min, 1064 nm continuous wave, 250 mW/cm2, 60 J/cm2 per site of 13.6 cm2); (2) acute exercise (EX) of high-intensity (total 20 min, with 10-min treadmill running at 85–90 % VO2max); (3) combined treatment (LLLT + EX); or (4) sham control (CON). Participants were tested for prefrontal measures of sustained attention with the psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) and working memory with the delayed match-to-sample task (DMS) before and after the treatments. As compared to CON, both LLLT and EX reduced reaction time in the PVT [F(1.56) = 4.134, p = 0.01, η 2  = 0.181] and increased the number of correct responses in the DMS [F(1.56) = 4.690, p = 0.005, η 2  = 0.201], demonstrating a significant enhancing effect of LLLT and EX on cognitive performance. LLLT + EX effects were similar but showed no significantly greater improvement on PVT and DMS than LLLT or EX alone. The transcranial infrared laser stimulation and acute aerobic exercise treatments were similarly effective for cognitive enhancement, suggesting that they augment prefrontal cognitive functions similarly.


Low-level laser therapy Photobiomodulation Cognitive enhancement Transcranial laser stimulation Acute aerobic exercise 



The authors thank the Kinetic kidz laboratory members including Yen T. Chen, Jihoon Kim, Yeonhak Jung, Jeremy Setty, Hannah G. Calvert, and Elizabeth M. Glowacki for their help with data collection. The authors would also like to thank Dr. Douglas Barrett for their support with the cognitive tasks and Dr. R. Matthew Brothers and Dr. John L. Ivy for their support of our research. JH did this study in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a Ph.D. degree at The University of Texas at Austin. Research reported in this publication was supported by FGL from an institutional research fellowship from the College of Liberals Arts of the University of Texas at Austin. FGL holds the endowed George I. Sanchez Centennial Professorship in Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing financial interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jungyun Hwang
    • 1
  • Darla M. Castelli
    • 1
  • F. Gonzalez-Lima
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Kinesiology and Health EducationUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and Institute for NeuroscienceUniversity of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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