Differential effects of ongoing EEG beta and theta power on memory formation

PLoS One. 2017 Feb 13;12(2):e0171913. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171913. eCollection 2017.


Recently, elevated ongoing pre-stimulus beta power (13-17 Hz) at encoding has been associated with subsequent memory formation for visual stimulus material. It is unclear whether this activity is merely specific to visual processing or whether it reflects a state facilitating general memory formation, independent of stimulus modality. To answer that question, the present study investigated the relationship between neural pre-stimulus oscillations and verbal memory formation in different sensory modalities. For that purpose, a within-subject design was employed to explore differences between successful and failed memory formation in the visual and auditory modality. Furthermore, associative memory was addressed by presenting the stimuli in combination with background images. Results revealed that similar EEG activity in the low beta frequency range (13-17 Hz) is associated with subsequent memory success, independent of stimulus modality. Elevated power prior to stimulus onset differentiated successful from failed memory formation. In contrast, differential effects between modalities were found in the theta band (3-7 Hz), with an increased oscillatory activity before the onset of later remembered visually presented words. In addition, pre-stimulus theta power dissociated between successful and failed encoding of associated context, independent of the stimulus modality of the item itself. We therefore suggest that increased ongoing low beta activity reflects a memory promoting state, which is likely to be moderated by modality-independent attentional or inhibitory processes, whereas high ongoing theta power is suggested as an indicator of the enhanced binding of incoming interlinked information.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Beta Rhythm / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Theta Rhythm / physiology*
  • Vocabulary
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

This work was funded by the DFG, www.dfg.de, Grant 2653/6-1. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.