Modulation of Peak Alpha Frequency Oscillations During Working Memory Is Greater in Females Than Males

Front Hum Neurosci. 2021 Apr 23;15:626406. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2021.626406. eCollection 2021.


Peak alpha frequency is known to vary not just between individuals, but also within an individual over time. While variance in this metric between individuals has been tied to working memory performance, less understood are how short timescale modulations of peak alpha frequency during task performance may facilitate behavior. This gap in understanding may be bridged by consideration of a key difference between individuals: sex. Inconsistent findings in the literature regarding the relationship between peak alpha frequency and cognitive performance, as well as known sex-related-differences in peak alpha frequency and its modulation motivated our hypothesis that cognitive and neural processes underlying working memory-modulation of peak alpha frequency in particular-may differ based upon sex. Targeting sex as a predictive factor, we analyzed the EEG data of participants recorded while they performed four versions of a visual spatial working memory task. A significant difference between groups was present: females modulated peak alpha frequency more than males. Task performance did not differ by sex, yet a relationship between accuracy and peak alpha frequency was present in males, but not in females. These findings highlight the importance of considering sex as a factor in the study of oscillatory activity, particularly to further understanding of the neural mechanisms that underlie working memory.

Keywords: EEG – electroencephalogram; alpha oscillations; peak alpha frequency; sex differences; working memory.