Time-frequency analysis of event-related potentials: a brief tutorial

Brain Topogr. 2014 Jul;27(4):438-50. doi: 10.1007/s10548-013-0327-5. Epub 2013 Nov 6.


Event-related potentials (ERPs) reflect cognitive processes and are usually analyzed in the so-called time domain. Additional information on cognitive functions can be assessed when analyzing ERPs in the frequency domain and treating them as event-related oscillations (EROs). This procedure results in frequency spectra but lacks information about the temporal dynamics of EROs. Here, we describe a method-called time-frequency analysis-that allows analyzing both the frequency of an ERO and its evolution over time. In a brief tutorial, the reader will learn how to use wavelet analysis in order to compute time-frequency transforms of ERP data. Basic steps as well as potential artifacts are described. Rather than in terms of formulas, descriptions are in textual form (written text) with numerous figures illustrating the topics. Recommendations on how to present frequency and time-frequency data in journal articles are provided. Finally, we briefly review studies that have applied time-frequency analysis to mismatch negativity paradigms. The deviant stimulus of such a paradigm evokes an ERO in the theta frequency band that is stronger than for the standard stimulus. Conversely, the standard stimulus evokes a stronger gamma-band response than does the deviant. This is interpreted in the context of the so-called match-and-utilization model.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Waves*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Evoked Potentials*
  • Humans
  • Wavelet Analysis*