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Liesefeld, Heinrich René (2018): Estimating the Timing of Cognitive Operations With MEG/EEG Latency Measures: A Primer, a Brief Tutorial, and an Implementation of Various Methods. In: Frontiers in Neuroscience, Vol. 12, 765 [PDF, 1MB]

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The major advantage of MEG/EEG over other neuroimaging methods is its high temporal resolution. Examining the latency of well-studied components can provide a window into the dynamics of cognitive operations beyond traditional response-time (RT) measurements. While RTs reflect the cumulative duration of all time-consuming cognitive operations involved in a task, component latencies can partition this time into cognitively meaningful sub-steps. Surprisingly, most MEG/EEG studies neglect this advantage and restrict analyses to component amplitudes without considering latencies. The major reasons for this neglect might be that, first, the most easily accessible latency measure (peak latency) is often unreliable and that, second, more complex measures are difficult to conceive, implement, and parametrize. The present article illustrates the key advantages and disadvantages of the three main types of latency-measures (peak latency, onset latency, and percent-area latency), introduces a MATLAB function that extracts all these measures and is compatible with common analysis tools, discusses the most important parameter choices for different research questions and components of interest, and demonstrates its use by various group analyses on one planar gradiometer pair of the publicly available Wakeman and Henson (2015) data. The introduced function can extract from group data not only single-subject latencies, but also grand-average and jackknife latencies. Furthermore, it gives the choice between different approaches to automatically set baselines and anchor points for latency estimation, approaches that were partly developed by me and that capitalize on the informational richness of MEG/EEG data. Although the function comes with a wide range of customization parameters, the default parameters are set so that even beginners get reasonable results. Graphical depictions of latency estimates, baselines, and anchor points overlaid on individual averages further support learning, understanding and trouble-shooting. Once extracted, latency estimates can be submitted to any analysis also available for (averaged) RTs, including tests for mean differences, correlational approaches and cognitive modeling.

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