Stimulus-Induced Changes in 1/f-like Background Activity in EEG

Máté Gyurkovics, Grace M. Clements, Kathy A. Low, Monica Fabiani, Gabriele Gratton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research into the nature of 1/f-like, nonoscillatory electrophysiological activity has grown exponentially in recent years in cognitive neuroscience. The shape of this activity has been linked to the balance between excitatory and inhibitory neural circuits, which is thought to be important for information processing. However, to date, it is not known whether the presentation of a stimulus induces changes in the parameters of 1/f activity in scalp recordings, separable from event-related potentials (ERPs). Here, we analyzed event-related broadband changes in human EEG both before and after removing ERPs to demonstrate their confounding effect, and to establish whether there are genuine stimulus-induced changes in 1/f. Using data from a passive and an active auditory task (n = 23, 61% female), we found that the shape of the post-event spectra between 2 and 25 Hz differed significantly from the pre-event spectra even after removing the frequency-content of ERPs. Further, a significant portion of this difference could be accounted for by a rotational shift in 1/f activity, manifesting as an increase in low and a decrease in high frequencies. Importantly, the magnitude of this rotational shift was related to the attentional demands of the task. This change in 1/f is consistent with increased inhibition following stimulus onset, and likely reflects a disruption of ongoing excitatory activity proportional to processing demands. Finally, these findings contradict the central assumption of baseline normalization strategies in time-frequency analyses, namely, that background EEG activity is stationary across time. As such, they have far-reaching consequences relevant for several subfields of neuroscience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7144-7151
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number37
StatePublished - Sep 14 2022


  • 1/f activity
  • event-related potentials
  • power spectrum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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