Increased brain signal variability accompanies lower behavioral variability in development

PLoS Comput Biol. 2008 Jul 4;4(7):e1000106. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000106.


As the brain matures, its responses become optimized. Behavioral measures show this through improved accuracy and decreased trial-to-trial variability. The question remains whether the supporting brain dynamics show a similar decrease in variability. We examined the relation between variability in single trial evoked electrical activity of the brain (measured with EEG) and performance of a face memory task in children (8-15 y) and young adults (20-33 y). Behaviorally, children showed slower, more variable response times (RT), and less accurate recognition than adults. However, brain signal variability increased with age, and showed strong negative correlations with intrasubject RT variability and positive correlations with accuracy. Thus, maturation appears to lead to a brain with greater functional variability, which is indicative of enhanced neural complexity. This variability may reflect a broader repertoire of metastable brain states and more fluid transitions among them that enable optimum responses. Our results suggest that the moment-to-moment variability in brain activity may be a critical index of the cognitive capacity of the brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Child
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Human Development / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / growth & development
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Reaction Time
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology