Psychology

Study Notes

Biopsychology: Studying the Brain - Electroencephalogram & Event-Related Potentials Electroencephalogram

Level:
A Level
Board:
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

An electroencephalogram (EEG) works on the premise that information is processed in the brain as electrical activity in the form of action potentials or nerve impulses, transmitted along neurons. EEG measure this electrical activity through electrodes attached to the scalp. Small electrical charges that are detected by the electrodes are graphed over a period of time, indicating the level of activity in the brain.

Event-Related Potentials (ERP) use similar equipment to EEG, i.e. electrodes attached to the scalp. However, the key difference is that a stimulus is presented to a participant (for example a picture/sound) and the researcher looks for activity related to that stimulus.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

An electroencephalogram (EEG) works on the premise that information is processed in the brain as electrical activity in the form of action potentials or nerve impulses, transmitted along neurons. EEG scanners measure this electrical activity through electrodes attached to the scalp. Small electrical charges detected by the electrodes are graphed over a period of time, indicating the level of activity in the brain. There are four types of EEG patterns including alpha waves, beta waves, theta waves and delta waves. Each of these patterns has two basic properties that psychologists can examine:

  • Amplitude: the intensity or size of the activity
  • Frequency: the speed or quantity of activity

Also, EEG patterns produce two distinctive states: synchronised and desynchronized patterns. A synchronised pattern is where a recognised waveform (alpha, beta, delta and theta) can be detected, whereas a desynchronized is where no pattern can be detected.

Fast desynchronized patterns are usually found when awake and synchronised patterns are typically found during sleep (alpha waves are associated with light sleep, and theta/delta waves are associated with deep sleep). Furthermore, EEG scanning was responsible for developing our understanding of REM (dream) sleep, which is associated with a fast, desynchronized activity, indicative of dreaming.

EEG can also be used to detect illnesses like epilepsy and sleep disorders, and to diagnose other disorders that affect brain activity, like Alzheimer’s disease.

Event-Related Potentials (ERP)

Event-Related Potentials (ERP) use similar equipment to EEG, electrodes attached to the scalp. However, the key difference is that a stimulus is presented to a participant (for example a picture/sound) and the researcher looks for activity related to that stimulus. However, as ERPs are difficult to separate from all of the background EEG data, the stimulus is present many times (usually hundreds), and an average response is graphed. This procedure, which is called ‘averaging’, reduces any extraneous neural activity which makes the specific response to the stimulus stand out.

The time or interval between the presentation of the stimulus and the response is referred to as latency. ERPs have a very short latency and can be divided into two broad categories. Waves (responses) that occur within 100 milliseconds following the presentation of a stimulus are referred to as sensory ERPs, as they reflect a sensory response to the stimulus. ERPs that occur after 100 milliseconds are referred to as cognitive ERPs, as they demonstrate some information processing.

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