Pre-frontal stimulation does not reliably increase reward responsiveness

L. M. Hadden, H. Penny, A. L. Jones, A. M. Partridge, T. M. Lancaster, C. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and its effects can be fatal, with over 800,000 people dying by suicide each year. Neuromodulatory treatments such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) are being used to treat depression. Despite its endorsement by two regulatory bodies: NICE (2016) and the FDA (2008), there are major questions about the treatment efficacy and biological mechanisms of TMS. Ahn et al.’s (2013) justified the use of TMS in a clinical context in an important study indicating that excitatory TMS increases reward responsiveness. A pseudo-replication of this study by Duprat et al., (2016) also found a similar effect of active TMS, but only with the addition of an exploratory covariate to the analyses–trait reward responsiveness. Here we replicate Ahn et al.’s (2013) key study, and to test the reliability of the effects, and their dependency on trait reward responsiveness as described by Duprat et al., (2016). Using excitatory and sham TMS, we tested volunteers using the probabilistic learning task to measure their reward responsiveness both before and after stimulation. We also examined affect (positive, negative) following stimulation. Irrespective of TMS, the task was shown to be sensitive to reward responsiveness. However, we did not show TMS to be effective in increasing reward responsiveness and we did not replicate Ahn et al., (2013) or Duprat et al., (2016)'s key findings for TMS efficacy, where we provide evidence favouring the null. Moreover, exploratory analyses suggested following active stimulation, positive affect was reduced. Given our findings, we question the basic effects, which support the use of TMS for depression, particularly considering potential deleterious effects of reduced positive affect in patients with depression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)268-285
Number of pages18
Early online date20 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This work was supported by Wellcome Trust [grant number 104943/Z/14/Z/ ] and the Cardiff University Clinical Psychology program , in association with Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) .


  • Anhedonia
  • Depression
  • Replication
  • Reward responsiveness
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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