States and traits of neural irregularity in the age-varying human brain

Sci Rep. 2017 Dec 12;7(1):17381. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-17766-4.


Sensory representations, and thus human percepts, of the physical world are susceptible to fluctuations in brain state or "neural irregularity". Furthermore, aging brains display altered levels of neural irregularity. We here show that a single, within-trial, information-theoretic measure (weighted permutation entropy) captures neural irregularity in the human electroencephalogram as a proxy for both, trait-like differences between individuals of varying age, and state-like fluctuations that bias perceptual decisions. First, the overall level of neural irregularity increased with participants' age, paralleled by a decrease in variability over time, likely indexing age-related changes at structural and functional levels of brain activity. Second, states of higher neural irregularity were associated with optimized sensory encoding and a subsequently increased probability of choosing the first of two physically identical stimuli to be higher in pitch. In sum, neural irregularity not only characterizes behaviourally relevant brain states, but also can identify trait-like changes that come with age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Biological Variation, Individual
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Young Adult