Even in well-controlled laboratory environments, apparently identical repetitions of an experimental trial can give rise to highly variable perceptual outcomes and behavioral responses. This variability is generally discarded as a reflection of intrinsic noise in neuronal systems. However, part of this variability may be accounted for by trial-by-trial fluctuations of the phase of ongoing oscillations at the moment of stimulus presentation. For example, the phase of an electro-encephalogram (EEG) oscillation reflecting the rapid waxing and waning of sustained attention can predict the perception of a subsequent visual stimulus at threshold. Similar ongoing periodicities account for a portion of the trial-by-trial variability of visual reaction times. We review the available experimental evidence linking ongoing EEG phase to perceptual and attentional variability, and the corresponding methodology. We propose future tests of this relation, and discuss the theoretical implications for understanding the neuronal dynamics of sensory perception.
Keywords: EEG; attention; ongoing; oscillation; perception; phase; pre-stimulus; spontaneous.