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de Graaf, Tom A.; Gross, Joachim; Paterson, Gavin; Rusch, Tessa; Sack, Alexander T.; Thut, Gregor (2013): Alpha-band rhythms in visual task performance: phase-locking by rhythmic sensory stimulation.
In: PloS one 8(3), e60035




Oscillations are an important aspect of neuronal activity. Interestingly, oscillatory patterns are also observed in behaviour, such as in visual performance measures after the presentation of a brief sensory event in the visual or another modality. These oscillations in visual performance cycle at the typical frequencies of brain rhythms, suggesting that perception may be closely linked to brain oscillations. We here investigated this link for a prominent rhythm of the visual system (the alpha-rhythm, 8-12 Hz) by applying rhythmic visual stimulation at alpha-frequency (10.6 Hz), known to lead to a resonance response in visual areas, and testing its effects on subsequent visual target discrimination. Our data show that rhythmic visual stimulation at 10.6 Hz: 1) has specific behavioral consequences, relative to stimulation at control frequencies (3.9 Hz, 7.1 Hz, 14.2 Hz), and 2) leads to alpha-band oscillations in visual performance measures, that 3) correlate in precise frequency across individuals with resting alpha-rhythms recorded over parieto-occipital areas. The most parsimonious explanation for these three findings is entrainment (phase-locking) of ongoing perceptually relevant alpha-band brain oscillations by rhythmic sensory events. These findings are in line with occipital alpha-oscillations underlying periodicity in visual performance, and suggest that rhythmic stimulation at frequencies of intrinsic brain-rhythms can be used to reveal influences of these rhythms on task performance to study their functional roles.