Background: One common criterion for classifying electrophysiological brain responses is based on the distinction between transient (i.e. event-related potentials, ERPs) and steady-state responses (SSRs). The generation of SSRs is usually attributed to the entrainment of a neural rhythm driven by the stimulus train. However, a more parsimonious account suggests that SSRs might result from the linear addition of the transient responses elicited by each stimulus. This study aimed to investigate this possibility.
Methodology/principal findings: We recorded brain potentials elicited by a checkerboard stimulus reversing at different rates. We modeled SSRs by sequentially shifting and linearly adding rate-specific ERPs. Our results show a strong resemblance between recorded and synthetic SSRs, supporting the superposition hypothesis. Furthermore, we did not find evidence of entrainment of a neural oscillation at the stimulation frequency.
Conclusions/significance: This study provides evidence that visual SSRs can be explained as a superposition of transient ERPs. These findings have critical implications in our current understanding of brain oscillations. Contrary to the idea that neural networks can be tuned to a wide range of frequencies, our findings rather suggest that the oscillatory response of a given neural network is constrained within its natural frequency range.