Neural variability: friend or foe?

Trends Cogn Sci. 2015 Jun;19(6):322-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.04.005. Epub 2015 May 12.


Although we may not realize it, our brain function varies markedly from moment to moment such that our brain responses exhibit substantial variability across trials even in response to a simple repeating stimulus. Should we care about such within-subject variability? Are there developmental, cognitive, and clinical consequences to having a brain that is more or less variable/noisy? Although neural variability seems to be beneficial for learning, excessive levels of neural variability are apparent in individuals with different clinical disorders. We propose that measuring distinct types of neural variability in autism and other disorders is likely to reveal crucial insights regarding their neuropathology. We further discuss the importance of studying neural variability more generally across development and aging in humans.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Humans