Electrophysiological markers of skill-related neuroplasticity.

TitleElectrophysiological markers of skill-related neuroplasticity.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsRomero, SG, McFarland, DJ, Faust, R, Farrell, L, Cacace, AT
JournalBiological psychology
Date Published07/2008
KeywordsEEG, ERP, neuroplasticity, skill learning

Neuroplasticity involved in acquiring a new cognitive skill was investigated with standard time domain event-related potentials (ERPs) of scalp-recorded electroencephalographic (EEG) activity and frequency domain analysis of EEG oscillations looking at the event-related synchronization (ERS) and desynchronization (ERD) of neural activity. Electroencephalographic activity was recorded before and after practice, while participants performed alphabet addition (i.e., E+3=G, true or false?). Participant's performance became automated with practice through a switch in cognitive strategy from mentally counting-up in the alphabet to retrieving the answer from memory. Time domain analysis of the ERPs revealed a prominent positive peak at approximately 300 ms that was not reactive to problem attributes but was reduced with practice. A second prominent positive peak observed at approximately 500 ms was found to be larger after practice, mainly for problems presented with correct answers. Frequency domain spectral analyses yielded two distinct findings: (1) a frontal midline ERS of theta activity that was greater after practice, and (2) a beta band ERD that increased with problem difficulty before, but not after practice. Because the EEG oscillations were not phase locked to the stimulus, they were viewed as being independent of the time domain results. Consequently, use of time and frequency domain analyses provides a more comprehensive account of the underlying electrophysiological data than either method alone. When used in combination with a well-defined cognitive/behavioral paradigm, this approach serves to constrain the interpretations of EEG data and sets a new standard for studying the neuroplasticity involved in skill acquisition.


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