Scale-specific dynamics of high-amplitude bursts in EEG capture behaviorally meaningful variability

Kanika Bansal, Javier O. Garcia, Nina Lauharatanahirun, Sarah F. Muldoon, Paul Sajda, Jean M. Vettel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Cascading high-amplitude bursts in neural activity, termed avalanches, are thought to provide insight into the complex spatially distributed interactions in neural systems. In human neuroimaging, for example, avalanches occurring during resting-state show scale-invariant dynamics, supporting the hypothesis that the brain operates near a critical point that enables long range spatial communication. In fact, it has been suggested that such scale-invariant dynamics, characterized by a power-law distribution in these avalanches, are universal in neural systems and emerge through a common mechanism. While the analysis of avalanches and subsequent criticality is increasingly seen as a framework for using complex systems theory to understand brain function, it is unclear how the framework would account for the omnipresent cognitive variability, whether across individuals or tasks. To address this, we analyzed avalanches in the EEG activity of healthy humans during rest as well as two distinct task conditions that varied in cognitive demands and produced behavioral measures unique to each individual. In both rest and task conditions we observed that avalanche dynamics demonstrate scale-invariant characteristics, but differ in their specific features, demonstrating individual variability. Using a new metric we call normalized engagement, which estimates the likelihood for a brain region to produce high-amplitude bursts, we also investigated regional features of avalanche dynamics. Normalized engagement showed not only the expected individual and task dependent variability, but also scale-specificity that correlated with individual behavior. Our results suggest that the study of avalanches in human brain activity provides a tool to assess cognitive variability. Our findings expand our understanding of avalanche features and are supportive of the emerging theoretical idea that the dynamics of an active human brain operate close to a critical-like region and not a singular critical-state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118425
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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