How conventional visual representations of time-frequency analyses bias our perception of EEG/MEG signals and what to do about it

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Time-frequency decompositions of the EEG/MEG have become such a familiar part of the cognitive neuroscience landscape over the past two decades that their appearance no longer seems remarkable. But to those of us who laboured in the days when the signal analysis toolbox contained Fourier analysis, event-related potentials and not much else, the arrival of time-frequency decompositions was little short of revolutionary. With their introduction, complex information about both the timing and frequency of changes in the EEG/MEG could be presented in the visually attractive format of time-frequency plots (TFPs). Like maps, with time on the abscissa, frequency on the ordinate and a colour or grey scale to indicate the amplitude or power at each time-frequency location, TFPs provide a convenient and efficient way to represent a large amount of detailed information in an easily digestible format and, for that, they are to be commended. Yet, despite all these benefits, it is my contention that TFPs, in the format most commonly seen in journal articles and at conferences, systematically distort and bias our perception of the EEG/MEG signals that they are supposed to help us understand.
Specifically, my contention is that TFPs are biased by the use of linear frequency scales. Linear frequency scales distort our perception of the EEG/MEG signal by placing far too much emphasis on the high frequency components of the signal, where there is very little energy, and far too little emphasis on the lower frequencies where the biggest changes are seen. This disproportionate focus on high frequencies confers a degree of significance to the gamma band that is not justified by the evidence.
Original languageEnglish
Article number212
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

© 2019 Burgess. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.


  • Bias (systemic error)
  • EEG & MEG
  • Time-frequency (TF) analysis
  • Visual representacion
  • Wavelet transform


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