Stimulating Self-Regulation: A Review of Non-invasive Brain Stimulation Studies of Goal-Directed Behavior.
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Self-regulation enables individuals to guide their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a purposeful manner. Self-regulation is thus crucial for goal-directed behavior and contributes to many consequential outcomes in life including physical health, psychological well-being, ethical decision making, and strong interpersonal relationships. Neuroscientific research has revealed that the prefrontal cortex plays a central role in self-regulation, specifically by exerting top-down control over subcortical regions involved in reward (e.g., striatum) and emotion (e.g., amygdala). To orient readers, we first offer a methodological overview of tDCS and then review experiments using non-invasive brain stimulation techniques (especially transcranial direct current stimulation) to target prefrontal brain regions implicated in self-regulation. We focus on brain stimulation studies of self-regulatory behavior across three broad domains of response: persistence, delay behavior, and impulse control. We suggest that stimulating the prefrontal cortex promotes successful self-regulation by altering the balance in activity between the prefrontal cortex and subcortical regions involved in emotion and reward processing.