The Hidden Spatial Dimension of Alpha: 10-Hz Perceptual Echoes Propagate as Periodic Traveling Waves in the Human Brain

Cell Rep. 2019 Jan 8;26(2):374-380.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.12.058.


EEG reverse-correlation techniques have revealed that visual information processing entails a ∼10-Hz (alpha) occipital response that reverberates sensory inputs up to 1 s. However, the spatial distribution of these perceptual echoes remains unknown: are they synchronized across the brain, or do they propagate like a traveling wave? Here, in two experiments with varying stimulus locations, we demonstrate the systematic phase propagation of perceptual echoes. A single stimulation in the upper visual field produced an "echo traveling wave" propagating from posterior to frontal sensors. The simultaneous presentation of two independent stimuli in separate visual hemifields produced two superimposed traveling waves propagating in opposite directions. Strikingly, in each sensor, the phase of the two echoes differed, with a phase advance for the contralateral stimulus. Thus, alpha traveling waves sweep across the human brain, encoding stimulus position in the phase domain, in line with the 70-year-old "cortical scanning" hypothesis (Pitts and McCulloch, 1947).

Keywords: EEG; alpha rhythm; impulse response function; perceptual cycles; traveling wave; visual evoked potentials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alpha Rhythm*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Visual Fields