Forgotten rhythms? Revisiting the first evidence for rhythms in cognition

Eur J Neurosci. 2022 Jun;55(11-12):3266-3276. doi: 10.1111/ejn.15450. Epub 2021 Sep 29.


Practically every neuroscientist knows that human brain rhythms were first recorded in the 1920s by Hans Berger, who coined the term 'alpha waves' for the regular activity of around 10 cycles per second that was clearly visible in many of his recordings. Almost 100 years later, alpha rhythms are still the subject of active investigation and continue to intrigue researchers. What we have perhaps forgotten though, is the clever experimentation that was carried out during the first decades of electroencephalogram (EEG) research, often using sophisticated, custom-made analysis and stimulation devices. Here, I review selected findings from the early EEG literature regarding the character, origin, and meaning of human brain rhythms, beginning with Berger's publications and then focusing on the use of regular visual stimulation as a tool to understand intrinsic brain rhythms. It is clear that many of these findings are still relevant to open questions about the role of rhythmic brain activity. In addition, they also contain some general lessons for contemporary neuroscientists, meaning that there is great value in looking back at these forgotten publications.

Keywords: Hans Berger; alpha rhythms; good scientific practice; history of neuroscience; photic driving.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alpha Rhythm*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cognition
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Humans
  • Photic Stimulation