Evidence of top-down modulation of the Brentano illusion but not of the glare effect by transcranial direct current stimulation

  • Ottavia MaddalunoEmail author
  • Alessio Facchin
  • Daniele Zavagno
  • Nadia Bolognini
  • Elisa Gianoli
  • Elisa M. Curreri
  • Roberta Daini
Research Article


Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been widely used for modulating sensory, motor and cognitive functions, but there are only few attempts to induce and change illusory perception. Visual illusions have been the most traditional and effective way to investigate visual processing through the comparison between physical reality and subjective reports. Here we used tDCS to modulate two different visual illusions, namely the Brentano illusion and the glare effect, with the aim of uncovering the influence of top-down mechanisms on bottom-up visual perception in two experiments. In Experiment 1, to a first group of subjects, real and sham cathodal tDCS (2 mA, 10 min) were applied over the left and right posterior parietal cortices (PPC). In Experiment 2, real and sham cathodal tDCS were applied to the left and right occipital cortices (OC) to a second group of participants. Results showed that tDCS was effective in modulating only the Brentano illusion, but not the glare effect. tDCS increased the Brentano illusion but specifically for the stimulated cortical area (right PPC), illusion direction (leftward), visual hemispace (left), and illusion length (160 mm). These findings suggest the existence of an inhibitory modulation of top-down mechanisms on bottom-up visual processing specifically for the Brentano illusion, but not for the glare effect. The lack of effect of occipital tDCS should consider the possible role of ocular compensation or of the unstimulated hemisphere, which deserves further investigations.


Visual illusions Brightness Transcranial direct current stimulation Top-down modulation 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Milan Center for Neuroscience (NeuroMI)University of Milano-BicoccaMilanItaly
  2. 2.University Research Centre in Optics and OptometryUniversity of Milano-Bicocca (COMiB)MilanItaly
  3. 3.Institute of Research and Studies in Optics and OptometryVinciItaly
  4. 4.Neuropsychological LaboratoryIRCCS Istituto Auxologico ItalianoMilanItaly

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