Preliminary evidence suggests beneficial effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on anxiety. The objective of this study was to investigate the effects of intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS) as a form of TMS on acute anxiety provoked by a virtual reality (VR) scenario.
Participants with spider phobia (n = 41) and healthy controls (n = 42) were exposed to a spider scenario in VR after one session of iTBS over the prefrontal cortex or sham treatment.
Participants with spider phobia reacted with more anxiety compared to healthy controls. Their heart rate and skin conductance increased compared to baseline. Contrary to expectations, iTBS did not influence these reactions, but modulated heart rate variability (HRV). Sympathetic influence on HRV showed an increase in the active iTBS group only. This study does not support the idea of beneficial effects of a single session of iTBS on anxiety, although other protocols or repeated sessions might be effective.