EEG-response consistency across subjects in an active oddball task

Yvonne Höller*, Aljoscha Thomschewski, Jürgen Bergmann, Martin Kronbichler, Julia S. Crone, Elisabeth V. Schmid, Kevin Butz, Peter Höller, Eugen Trinka

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


The active oddball paradigm is a candidate task for voluntary brain activation. Previous research has focused on group effects, and has largely overlooked the potential problem of interindividual differences. Interindividual variance causes problems with the interpretation of group-level results. In this study we want to demonstrate the degree of consistency in the active oddball task across subjects, in order to answer the question of whether this task is able to reliably detect conscious target processing in unresponsive patients. We asked 18 subjects to count rare targets and to ignore frequent standards and rare distractors in an auditory active oddball task. Event-related-potentials (ERPs) and time-frequency data were analyzed with permutation-t-tests on a single subject level. We plotted the group-average ERPs and time-frequency data, and evaluated the numbers of subjects showing significant differences between targets and distractors in certain time-ranges. The distinction between targets/distractors and standards was found to be significant in the time-range of the P300 in all participants. In contrast, significant differences between targets and distractors in the time-range of the P3a/b were found in 8 subjects, only. By including effects in the N1 and in a late negative component there remained 2 subjects who did not show a distinction between targets and distractors in the ERP. While time-frequency data showed prominent effects for target/distractor vs. standard, significant differences between targets and distractors were found in 2 subjects, only. The results suggest that time-frequency- and ERP-analysis of the active oddball task may not be sensitive enough to detect voluntary brain activation in unresponsive patients. In addition, we found that time-frequency analysis was even less informative than ERPs about the subject's task performance. Despite suggesting the use of more sensitive paradigms and/or analysis techniques, the present results give further evidence that electroencephalographic research should rely more strongly on single-subject analysis because interpretations of group-effects may be misleading.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere74572
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes

Other keywords

  • EEG
  • Brain
  • Neurology


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