Many notable events occurred in 1929, not all of them good. The St. Valentine’s Day massacre. The stock market crash that triggered a worldwide economic crisis. The chain saw was invented. Not much good was happening in Germany either. Rampant inflation, the decline of the Weimar Republic, and the implacable rise of Nazism. But 1929 was also the year that German physician Hans Berger made an important scientific discovery that continues to influence how we study the human brain today. Dr. Berger discovered that electrodes placed on the human scalp could detect various patterns of electrical activity. After further study confirmed that these patterns were indeed related to brain activity and not mere scalp muscle artifact, scientists began to delve into the constructs of these “brain waves.” Today, electroencephalography (EEG) is still the primary method employed for recording brain function. In medical and basic research, correlation of particular brain waves reveals valuable information about sleep phases, emotional states, psychological profiles, and other mental activities. Much of this information is derived from five simple periodic rhythms, or frequencies, recorded in the EEG signal—alpha, beta, delta, theta, and gamma waves. These frequencies are known to be associated with specific degrees of alertness, affect, emotional states, and sleep. What do these frequency bands tell us about what is going on behind the gray matter? Allow us to introduce the band members.
Alpha (8-13 Hz) – Mellow Band Member
Alpha waves are associated with relaxation and calm. In general, the alpha rhythm is the prominent EEG wave pattern of adult subjects who are awake, but relaxed with eyes closed. Each region of the brain has a characteristic alpha rhythm but alpha waves of the greatest amplitude are recorded from the occipital and parietal regions of the cerebral cortex. In general, alpha wave amplitudes diminish when subjects open their eyes and are attentive to external stimuli, although some subjects trained in relaxation techniques can maintain high alpha amplitudes even with eyes open.
Beta (13-30 Hz) – Band Manager
Beta waves are related to memory, focus, and problem-solving. beta rhythms occur in alert individuals who are attentive to external stimuli, or exerting specific mental effort. Paradoxically, beta rhythms also occur during deep REM sleep. Beta waves may also be associated with “remembering” or retrieving memories.
Delta (1-5 Hz) – Supportive Band Member and Theta Rhythm (4-8 Hz) – Creative Band Member
Delta and theta rhythms are low-frequency EEG patterns that increase during sleep in the normal adult. Delta waves are associated with rejuvenation of the body through restorative deep sleep. Theta waves are more aligned with creativity and emotional connection. As people move from lighter to deeper stages of sleep (prior to REM sleep,) the occurrence of alpha waves diminishes and is gradually replaced by the lower frequency theta and then delta rhythms.
Although theta and delta rhythms are generally most prominent during sleep, there are cases when delta and theta rhythms are recorded from individuals who are awake. For example, theta waves will occur for brief intervals during emotional responses to frustrating events or situations. Delta waves may increase during difficult mental activities requiring concentration. In general, the occurrence and amplitudes of delta and theta rhythms are highly variable within and between individuals.
Gamma (> 32 Hz) – Perceptive Band Member
Gamma waves bring to the party cognition, information processing, learning, memory, and perception. Gamma waves were largely overlooked before the development of digital electroencephalography, as analog electroencephalography is restricted to recording and measuring rhythms that are usually less than 25 Hz.
A gamma wave is considered to be the “fastest” brain activity. The prominence of this wave leads to anxiety, high arousal, and stress. In optimal conditions gamma waves help with attention, focus, binding of senses (smell, sight, and hearing), consciousness, mental processing, and perception.
Research studies reported that gamma activity is involved in attention, working memory, and long-term memory processes, although excessive Gamma activity is also involved in psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, hallucination, Alzheimer’s disease, and epilepsy.
So in a sense, the periodic rhythms alpha, beta, delta, theta, and gamma, like the members of a tight musical ensemble, have distinct but overlapping roles for enabling the human brain to achieve wondrous things great and small that are often taken for granted.
BIOPAC Systems, Inc offers the following solutions for recording and analyzing EEG signals for research and education applications.
MP160 System with AcqKnowledge Software
EEG100D Smart Amplifier
EEG100C Amplifier Module
EEG100C-MRI Amplifier Module
BioNomadix Wireless EEG
BioNomadix Smart Center
Mobita 32-Channel Wireless EEG System
B-Alert Wireless EEG with Cognitive States Software
EPOCH Wireless In Vivo Neural Recording Systems—longterm EEG for rats, mice, or pups
Biopac Student Lab Systems—with EEG I, EEG II, and Hemispheric EEG lessons
We also invite you to enjoy our library of free EEG webinars on our Webinars page.