New paper: Using ERPs and alpha oscillations to decode the direction of motion

Bae, G. Y., & Luck, S. J. (2018). Decoding motion direction using the topography of sustained ERPs and alpha oscillations. NeuroImage, 18: 242-255.

This is our second paper applying decoding methods to sustained ERPs and alpha-band EEG oscillations. The first one decoded which of 16 orientations was being maintained in working memory. In the new paper, we decoded which of 16 directions of motion was present in random dot kinematograms.

The paradigm is shown in the figure below. During a 1500-ms motion period, 25.6% or 51.2% of the dots moved coherently in one of 16 directions and the remainder moved randomly. After the motion ended, the subject adjusted a green line to match the direction of motion (which they could do quite precisely).

Motion Decoding.jpg

We asked whether we could decode (using machine learning) the precise direction of motion from the scalp distribution of the sustained voltage or alpha-band signal at each moment in time. Decoding the exact direction of motion is very challenging, and chance performance would be only 6.25% correct. During the motion period for the 51.2% coherence level, we were able to decode the direction of motion well above chance on the basis of the sustained ERP voltage (see the bottom right panel of the figure). However, as shown in the bottom left panel, we couldn’t decode the direction of motion on the basis of the alpha-band activity until the report period (during which time attention was presumably focused on the location of the green line).

When the coherence level was only 25.6% (and perception of coherent motion was much more difficult), we could not decode the actual direction of motion above chance. However, we were able to decode the direction of perceived motion (i.e., the direction that the subject reported at the end of the trial).

This study shows that (a) ERPs can be used to decode very subtle stimulus properties, and (b) sustained ERPs and alpha-band oscillations contain different information. In general, alpha-band activity appears to reflect the direction of spatial attention, whereas sustained ERPs contain information about both the direction of attention and the specific feature value being represented.