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Lapses in alertness: coherence of fluctuations in performance and EEG spectrum.

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Cognitive Performance and Psychophysiology Department, Naval Health Research Center, San Diego 92186-5122.


Thirteen subjects detected noise burst targets presented in a white noise background at a mean rate of 10/min. Within each session, local error rate, defined as the fraction of targets detected in a 33 sec moving window, fluctuated widely. Mean coherence between slow mean variations in EEG power and in local error rate was computed for each EEG frequency and performance cycle length, and was shown by a Monte Carlo procedure to be significant for many EEG frequencies and performance cycle lengths, particularly in 4 well-defined EEG frequency bands, near 3, 10, 13, and 19 Hz, and at higher frequencies in two cycle length ranges, one longer than 4 min and the other near 90 sec/cycle. The coherence phase plane contained a prominent phase reversal near 6 Hz. Sorting individual spectra by local error rate confirmed the close relation between performance and EEG power and its relative within-subject stability. These results show that attempts to maintain alertness in an auditory detection task result in concurrent minute and multi-minute scale fluctuations in performance and the EEG power spectrum.

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