Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS) enhances conflict-triggered adjustment of cognitive control

  • Rico FischerEmail author
  • Carlos Ventura-Bort
  • Alfons Hamm
  • Mathias Weymar


Response conflicts play a prominent role in the flexible adaptation of behavior as they represent context-signals that indicate the necessity for the recruitment of cognitive control. Previous studies have highlighted the functional roles of the affectively aversive and arousing quality of the conflict signal in triggering the adaptation process. To further test this potential link with arousal, participants performed a response conflict task in two separate sessions with either transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation (tVNS), which is assumed to activate the locus coeruleus-noradrenaline (LC-NE) system, or with neutral sham stimulation. In both sessions the N2 and P3 event-related potentials (ERP) were assessed. In line with previous findings, conflict interference, the N2 and P3 amplitude were reduced after conflict. Most importantly, this adaptation to conflict was enhanced under tVNS compared to sham stimulation for conflict interference and the N2 amplitude. No effect of tVNS on the P3 component was found. These findings suggest that tVNS increases behavioral and electrophysiological markers of adaptation to conflict. Results are discussed in the context of the potentially underlying LC-NE and other neuromodulatory (e.g., GABA) systems. The present findings add important pieces to the understanding of the neurophysiological mechanisms of conflict-triggered adjustment of cognitive control.


Conflict adaptation Cognitive control Transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation tVNS ERP N2 


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rico Fischer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Carlos Ventura-Bort
    • 2
  • Alfons Hamm
    • 1
  • Mathias Weymar
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GreifswaldGreifswaldGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany

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