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Clin Neurophysiol. 2004 Apr;115(4):887-97.

Peak alpha frequency: an electroencephalographic measure of cognitive preparedness.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Drexel University, MS 626, 245 N. 15th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102-1192, USA.



Electroencephalographic (EEG) peak alpha frequency (PAF) (measured in Hz) has been correlated to cognitive performance between healthy and clinical individuals, and among healthy individuals. PAF also varies within individuals across developmental stages, among different cognitive tasks, and among physiological states induced by administration of various substances. The present study suggests that, among other things, PAF reflects a trait or state of cognitive preparedness.


Experiment 1 involved 19-channel EEG recordings from 10 individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and 12 healthy matched controls, before, during, and after tasks of visual and auditory attention. Experiment 2 involved EEG recordings from 19 healthy young adults before and after a working memory task (WAIS-R Digit Span), repeated on 2 different days to measure within-individual differences.


Experiment 1 showed significantly lower PAF in individuals with TBI, mostly during post-task rest. Experiment 2 showed PAF during pre-task baseline to be significantly correlated with Digit Span performance of the same day but not with Digit Span performance of another day. Moreover, PAF was significantly increased after Digit Span for those participants whose PAF was lower than the sample median before the task, but not for those who had it higher. Finally, both PAF and Digit Span performance were increased during the second day.


PAF was shown to detect both trait and state differences in cognitive preparedness, as well as to be affected by cognitive tasks. Traits are better reflected during post-task rest, whereas states are better reflected during initial resting baseline recordings.

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