Does electroencephalogram phase variability account for reduced P3 brain potential in externalizing disorders?

Scott J. Burwell, Steve Malone, Edward M. Bernat, William G Iacono

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16 Scopus citations


Objective: Amplitude deficits of the P3 event-related potential (ERP) are associated with externalizing psychopathology but little is known about the nature of underlying brain electrical activity that accounts for this amplitude reduction. We sought to understand if group differences in task-induced phase-locking in electroencephalographic (EEG) delta and theta frequencies may account for P3-externalizing associations. Methods: Adult males (N= 410) completed a visual oddball task and frontal and parietal P3-related delta- and theta-band phase-invariant evoked energy and inter-trial phase-locking measures were investigated with respect to the externalizing spectrum, including substance dependence, adult antisociality, and childhood disruptive disorders. We hypothesized that P3-related phase-locking is weaker in externalizing-diagnosed individuals and this might mediate prior findings of reduced evoked P3 energy. Results: Reductions in both evoked energy and phase-locking, in both frequency bands, at both scalp sites, were associated with greater odds of externalizing diagnoses. Generally, adding phase-locking to evoked energy came with better prediction model fit. Moreover, reduced theta-band phase-locking partially mediated the effects of within-frequency evoked energy on externalizing prediction. Conclusions: Inter-trial phase-locking underlying P3 appears to be an important distinction between externalizing and control subjects. Significance: This cross-trial phase-variability for externalizing-diagnosed individuals might reflect deficient top-down "tuning" by neuromodulatory systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2007-2015
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was made possible by funding from Grants DA005147 and DA024417 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse . E.B. was supported by Grant MH080239 from the National Institute of Mental Health .


  • Event-related potential
  • Externalizing
  • P3
  • Phase-locking
  • Substance use
  • Theta


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