Intra-individual variability in behavior: links to brain structure, neurotransmission and neuronal activity

Trends Neurosci. 2006 Aug;29(8):474-80. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2006.06.011. Epub 2006 Jul 3.


Intra-individual variability reflects a transient, within-person change in behavioral performance. It is a common component of aging-related cognitive decline and the behavioral changes associated with neurodegenerative and other brain-related disorders such as traumatic brain injury and schizophrenia. Behavioral changes within an individual can reflect alterations at a systems or a cellular level in the brain, and monitoring intra-individual variability can therefore provide a warning of underlying pathology. Despite frequent reports of intra-individual variability, there is little synthesis, and no direct examination of the neural underpinnings. Here, we integrate seminal findings from cognitive research across lifespans of individuals, and also neuropsychological and neurobiological findings, to identify key questions and some potential answers, and to set challenges for fostering future research into intra-individual variability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Diseases / pathology
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents