Single-trial regression elucidates the role of prefrontal theta oscillations in response conflict

Front Psychol. 2011 Feb 28:2:30. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00030. eCollection 2011.


In most cognitive neuroscience experiments there are many behavioral and experimental dynamics, and many indices of brain activity, that vary from trial to trial. For example, in studies of response conflict, conflict is usually treated as a binary variable (i.e., response conflict exists or does not in any given trial), whereas some evidence and intuition suggests that conflict may vary in intensity from trial to trial. Here we demonstrate that single-trial multiple regression of time-frequency electrophysiological activity reveals neural mechanisms of cognitive control that are not apparent in cross-trial averages. We also introduce a novel extension to oscillation phase coherence and synchronization analyses, based on "weighted" phase modulation, that has advantages over standard coherence measures in terms of linking electrophysiological dynamics to trial-varying behavior and experimental variables. After replicating previous response conflict findings using trial-averaged data, we extend these findings using single-trial analytic methods to provide novel evidence for the role of medial frontal-lateral prefrontal theta-band synchronization in conflict-induced response time dynamics, including a role for lateral prefrontal theta-band activity in biasing response times according to perceptual conflict. Given that these methods shed new light on the prefrontal mechanisms of response conflict, they are also likely to be useful for investigating other neurocognitive processes.

Keywords: EEG; cognitive control; medial frontal cortex; oscillations; regression; response conflict; single trial; theta.