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Brain Topogr. 2008 Jun;20(4):265-77. doi: 10.1007/s10548-008-0053-6. Epub 2008 Mar 13.

Beyond conventional event-related brain potential (ERP): exploring the time-course of visual emotion processing using topographic and principal component analyses.

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  • 1Laboratory for Behavioral Neurology & Imaging of Cognition, Department of Neuroscience & Clinic of Neurology, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.


Recent technological advances with the scalp EEG methodology allow researchers to record electric fields generated in the human brain using a large number of electrodes or sensors (e.g. 64-256) distributed over the head surface (multi-channel recording). As a consequence, such high-density ERP mapping yields fairly dense ERP data sets that are often hard to analyze comprehensively or to relate straightforwardly to specific cognitive or emotional processes, because of the richness of the recorded signal in both the temporal (millisecond time-resolution) and spatial (multidimensional topographic information) domains. Principal component analyses (PCA) and topographic analyses (combined with distributed source localization algorithms) have been developed and successfully used to deal with this complexity, now offering powerful alternative strategies for data-driven analyses in complement to more traditional ERP analyses based on waveforms and peak measures. In this paper, we first briefly review the basic principles of these approaches, and then describe recent ERP studies that illustrate how they can inform about the precise spatio-temporal dynamic of emotion processing. These studies show that the perception of emotional visual stimuli may produce both quantitative and qualitative changes in the electric field configuration recorded at the scalp level, which are not apparent when using conventional ERP analyses. Additional information gained from these approaches include the identification of a sequence of successive processing stages that may not fully be reflected in ERP waveforms only, and the segregation of multiple or partly overlapping neural events that may be blended within a single ERP waveform. These findings highlight the added value of such alternative analyses when exploring the electrophysiological manifestations of complex and distributed mental functions, as for instance during emotion processing.

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