Objective: We aimed to examine the relation between the phase of electroencephalogram (EEG) alpha activity at stimulus onset and event-related potentials (ERPs) in a fixed-inter-stimulus interval auditory 'oddball' task, using a novel conceptualisation of orthogonal phase effects (cortical negativity versus positivity, negative driving versus positive driving, waxing versus waning).
Methods: EEG responses to button-press targets, from 14 subjects presented with 4 blocks of 150 stimuli (50% target probability), were examined. Pre-stimulus alpha activity (8-13 Hz) at Pz was assessed for each trial by digital filtering of the EEG. The alpha cycle at Pz, starting from a negative-going zero crossing, was used to sort trials into 4 phases, for which ERPs were derived from both the filtered and unfiltered EEG activity at Fz, Cz, and Pz.
Results: Preferred brain states in this paradigm were indicated by an 8% greater occurrence of negative driving than positive driving, and a 33% greater occurrence of waxing than waning phases. Negative driving phases were associated with increased N1 latencies and decreased N2 amplitudes. Latencies of N1 and P2 were reduced in waxing phases. These reflected systematic changes in alpha frequency and amplitude at stimulus onset.
Conclusions: In a fixed-inter-stimulus interval paradigm, component frequencies of the EEG are dynamically adjusted in order to provide brain states at the moment of stimulus presentation which differentially affect the EEG correlates of stimulus processing.
Significance: The results add to our understanding of the genesis of the ERP, indicating the importance of the dynamic interplay between instantaneous EEG activity and stimulus processing reflected in the ERP.