Combining proactive transcranial stimulation and cardiac biofeedback to substantially manage harmful stress effects

Sophie Schlatter*, Aymeric Guillot, Laura Schmidt, Mathilde Mura, Robin Trama, Franck Di Rienzo, Marc Lilot, Ursula Debarnot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Previous studies have identified the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) as a core region in cognitive emotional regulation. Transcranial direct current stimulations of the dlPFC (tDCS) and heart-rate variability biofeedback (BFB) are known to regulate emotional processes. However, the effect of these interventions applied either alone or concomitantly during an anticipatory stress remains unexplored. Objective: The study investigated the effect of anodal tDCS and BFB, alone or combined, on psychophysiological stress responses and cognitive functioning. Methods: Following a stress anticipation induction, 80 participants were randomized into four groups and subjected to a 15-min intervention: neutral video viewing (CTRL), left dlPFC anodal tDCS (TDCS), heart-rate variability biofeedback (BFB), or a combined treatment (BFB + TDCS). Participants were then immediately confronted with the stressor, which was followed by an assessment of executive functions. Psychophysiological stress responses were assessed throughout the experiment (heart rate, heart-rate variability, salivary cortisol). Results: The TDCS did not modulate stress responses. Compared with both CTRL and TDCS interventions, BFB reduced physiological stress and improved executive functions after the stressor. The main finding revealed that BFB + TDCS was the most effective intervention, yielding greater reduction in psychological and physiological stress responses than BFB. Conclusions: Combining preventive tDCS with BFB is a relevant interventional approach to reduce psychophysiological stress responses, hence offering a new and non-invasive treatment of stress-related disorders. Biofeedback may be particularly useful for preparing for an important stressful event when performance is decisive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1384-1392
Number of pages9
JournalBrain Stimulation
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Anticipatory stress
  • Biofeedback
  • Brain stimulation
  • Coping
  • Executive functions
  • Heart-rate variability


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