qEEG Measures of Attentional and Memory Network Functions in Medical Students: Novel Targets for Pharmacopuncture to Improve Cognition and Academic Performance

J Pharmacopuncture. 2019 Sep;22(3):166-170. doi: 10.3831/KPI.2019.22.022. Epub 2019 Sep 30.


Objectives: Attentional and memory functions are important aspects of neural plasticity that, theoretically, should be amenable to pharmacopuncture treatments. A previous study from our laboratory suggested that quantitative electroencephalographic (qEEG) measurements of theta/beta ratio (TBR), an index of attentional control, may be indicative of academic performance in a first-semester medical school course. The present study expands our prior report by extracting and analyzing data on frontal theta and beta asymmetries. We test the hypothesis that the amount of frontal theta and beta asymmetries (fTA, fBA), are correlated with TBR and academic performance, thereby providing novel targets for pharmacopuncture treatments to improve cognitive performance.

Methods: Ten healthy male volunteers were subjected to 5-10 min of qEEG measurements under eyes-closed conditions. The qEEG measurements were performed 3 days before each of first two block examinations in anatomy-physiology, separated by five weeks. Amplitudes of the theta and beta waveforms, expressed in μV, were used to compute TBR, fTA and fBA. Significance of changes in theta and beta EEG wave amplitude was assessed by ANOVA with post-hoc t-testing. Correlations between TBR, fTA, fBA and the raw examination scores were evaluated by Pearson's product-moment coefficients and linear regression analysis.

Results: fTA and fBA were found to be negatively correlated with TBR (P<0.03, P<0.05, respectively) and were positively correlated with the second examination score (P<0.03, P=0.1, respectively).

Conclusion: Smaller fTA and fBA were associated with lower academic performance in the second of two first-semester medical school anatomy-physiology block examination. Future studies should determine whether these qEEG metrics are useful for monitoring changes associated with the brain's cognitive adaptations to academic challenges, for predicting academic performance and for targeting phamacopuncture treatments to improve cognitive performance.

Keywords: Theta/beta ratio; academic performance; frontal beta asymmetry; frontal theta asymmetry; neural plasticity; pharmacopuncture; quantitative electroencephalography (qEEG).