Decomposing delta, theta, and alpha time-frequency ERP activity from a visual oddball task using PCA

Edward M. Bernat, Stephen M. Malone, William J. Williams, Christopher J. Patrick, William G. Iacono

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Objective: Time-frequency (TF) analysis has become an important tool for assessing electrical and magnetic brain activity from event-related paradigms. In electrical potential data, theta and delta activities have been shown to underlie P300 activity, and alpha has been shown to be inhibited during P300 activity. Measures of delta, theta, and alpha activity are commonly taken from TF surfaces. However, methods for extracting relevant activity do not commonly go beyond taking means of windows on the surface, analogous to measuring activity within a defined P300 window in time-only signal representations. The current objective was to use a data driven method to derive relevant TF components from event-related potential data from a large number of participants in an oddball paradigm. Methods: A recently developed PCA approach was employed to extract TF components [Bernat, E. M., Williams, W. J., and Gehring, W. J. (2005). Decomposing ERP time-frequency energy using PCA. Clin Neurophysiol, 116(6), 1314-1334] from an ERP dataset of 2068 17 year olds (979 males). TF activity was taken from both individual trials and condition averages. Activity including frequencies ranging from 0 to 14 Hz and time ranging from stimulus onset to 1312.5 ms were decomposed. Results: A coordinated set of time-frequency events was apparent across the decompositions. Similar TF components representing earlier theta followed by delta were extracted from both individual trials and averaged data. Alpha activity, as predicted, was apparent only when time-frequency surfaces were generated from trial level data, and was characterized by a reduction during the P300. Conclusions: Theta, delta, and alpha activities were extracted with predictable time-courses. Notably, this approach was effective at characterizing data from a single-electrode. Finally, decomposition of TF data generated from individual trials and condition averages produced similar results, but with predictable differences. Specifically, trial level data evidenced more and more varied theta measures, and accounted for less overall variance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-74
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by grant DA05147 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and AA09367 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.


  • ERP
  • P300
  • PCA
  • Time-frequency


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