Can the occipital alpha-phase speed up visual detection through a real-time EEG-based brain-computer interface (BCI)?

Eur J Neurosci. 2022 Jun;55(11-12):3224-3240. doi: 10.1111/ejn.14931. Epub 2020 Nov 3.


Electrical brain oscillations reflect fluctuations in neural excitability. Fluctuations in the alpha band (α, 8-12 Hz) in the occipito-parietal cortex are thought to regulate sensory responses, leading to cyclic variations in visual perception. Inspired by this theory, some past and recent studies have addressed the relationship between α-phase from extra-cranial EEG and behavioural responses to visual stimuli in humans. The latest studies have used offline approaches to confirm α-gated cyclic patterns. However, a particularly relevant implication is the possibility to use this principle online, whereby stimuli are time-locked to specific α-phases leading to predictable outcomes in performance. Here, we aimed at providing a proof of concept for such real-time neurotechnology. Participants performed a speeded response task to visual targets that were presented upon a real-time estimation of the α-phase via an EEG closed-loop brain-computer interface (BCI). According to the theory, we predicted a modulation of reaction times (RTs) along the α-cycle. Our BCI system achieved reliable trial-to-trial phase locking of stimuli to the phase of individual occipito-parietal α-oscillations. Yet, the behavioural results did not support a consistent relation between RTs and the phase of the α-cycle neither at group nor at single participant levels. We must conclude that although the α-phase might play a role in perceptual decisions from a theoretical perspective, its impact on EEG-based BCI application appears negligible.

Keywords: alpha; brain-computer interface; electroencephalography; oscillations; phase; real time; response time; visual perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain-Computer Interfaces*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Humans
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Visual Perception / physiology