Neural Variability Quenching Predicts Individual Perceptual Abilities Academic Article uri icon


  • Neural activity during repeated presentations of a sensory stimulus exhibits considerable trial-by-trial variability. Previous studies have reported that trial-by-trial neural variability is reduced (quenched) by the presentation of a stimulus. However, the functional significance and behavioral relevance of variability quenching and the potential physiological mechanisms that may drive it have been studied only rarely. Here, we recorded neural activity with EEG as subjects performed a two-interval forced-choice contrast discrimination task. Trial-by-trial neural variability was quenched by similar to 40% after the presentation of the stimulus relative to the variability apparent before stimulus presentation, yet there were large differences in the magnitude of variability quenching across subjects. Individual magnitudes of quenching predicted individual discrimination capabilities such that subjects who exhibited larger quenching had smaller contrast discrimination thresholds and steeper psychometric function slopes. Furthermore, the magnitude of variability quenching was strongly correlated with a reduction in broadband EEG power after stimulus presentation. Our results suggest that neural variability quenching is achieved by reducing the amplitude of broadband neural oscillations after sensory input, which yields relatively more reproducible cortical activity across trials and enables superior perceptual abilities in individuals who quench more.

publication date

  • January 1, 2017