Evidence is presented that EEG oscillations in the alpha and theta band reflect cognitive and memory performance in particular. Good performance is related to two types of EEG phenomena (i) a tonic increase in alpha but a decrease in theta power, and (ii) a large phasic (event-related) decrease in alpha but increase in theta, depending on the type of memory demands. Because alpha frequency shows large interindividual differences which are related to age and memory performance, this double dissociation between alpha vs. theta and tonic vs. phasic changes can be observed only if fixed frequency bands are abandoned. It is suggested to adjust the frequency windows of alpha and theta for each subject by using individual alpha frequency as an anchor point. Based on this procedure, a consistent interpretation of a variety of findings is made possible. As an example, in a similar way as brain volume does, upper alpha power increases (but theta power decreases) from early childhood to adulthood, whereas the opposite holds true for the late part of the lifespan. Alpha power is lowered and theta power enhanced in subjects with a variety of different neurological disorders. Furthermore, after sustained wakefulness and during the transition from waking to sleeping when the ability to respond to external stimuli ceases, upper alpha power decreases, whereas theta increases. Event-related changes indicate that the extent of upper alpha desynchronization is positively correlated with (semantic) long-term memory performance, whereas theta synchronization is positively correlated with the ability to encode new information. The reviewed findings are interpreted on the basis of brain oscillations. It is suggested that the encoding of new information is reflected by theta oscillations in hippocampo-cortical feedback loops, whereas search and retrieval processes in (semantic) long-term memory are reflected by upper alpha oscillations in thalamo-cortical feedback loops.
Copyright 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.