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Alpha wave

alpha waves, alpha wave music
Alpha waves are neural oscillations in the frequency range of 75–125 Hz1 arising from synchronous and coherent in phase or constructive electrical activity of thalamic pacemaker cells in humans They are also called Berger's wave in memory of the founder of EEG

Alpha waves are one type of brain waves detected either by electroencephalography EEG or magnetoencephalography MEG and predominantly originate from the occipital lobe during wakeful relaxation with closed eyes Alpha waves are reduced with open eyes, drowsiness and sleep Historically, they were thought to represent the activity of the visual cortex in an idle state More recent papers have argued that they inhibit areas of the cortex not in use, or alternatively that they play an active role in network coordination and communication2 Occipital alpha waves during periods of eyes closed are the strongest EEG brain signals

Alpha waves can be quantified using Quantitative electroencephalography qEEG using freely available toolboxes, such as, EEGLAB or the Neurophysiological Biomarker Toolbox

An alpha-like variant called mu μ can be found over the motor cortex central scalp that is reduced with movement, or the intention to move Alpha waves seem not to appear until three years of age3


  • 1 History of alpha waves
  • 2 Types of alpha waves
  • 3 Alpha wave intrusion
  • 4 Biofeedback training
  • 5 Alpha wave artifacts
  • 6 See also
    • 61 Brain waves
  • 7 References
  • 8 Further reading

History of alpha wavesedit

The sample of human EEG with prominent alpha-rhythm in occipital sites

Alpha waves were discovered by German neurologist Hans Berger, most famous for his invention of the EEG Alpha waves were among the first waves documented by Berger, along with beta waves, and he displayed an interest in "alpha blockage", the process by which alpha waves decrease and beta waves increase upon a subject opening their eyes This distinction earned the alpha wave the alternate title of "Berger's Wave"

Berger took a cue from Ukrainian physiologist Pravdich-Neminski, who used a string galvanometer to create a photograph of the electrical activity of a dog's brain Using similar techniques, Berger confirmed the existence of electrical activity in the human brain He first did this by presenting a stimulus to hospital patients with skull damage and measuring the electrical activity in their brains Later he ceased the stimulus method and began measuring the natural rhythmic electrical cycles in the brain The first natural rhythm he documented was what would become known as the alpha wave Berger was very thorough and meticulous in his data-gathering, but despite his brilliance, he did not feel confident enough to publish his discoveries until at least five years after he had made them In 1929, he published his first findings on alpha waves in the journal Archiv für Psychiatrie He was originally met with derision for his EEG technique and his subsequent alpha and brain wave discoveries His technique and findings did not gain widespread acceptance in the psychological community until 1937, when he gained the approval of the famous physiologist Lord Adrian, who took a particular interest in alpha waves4

Alpha waves again gained recognition in the early 1960s and 1970s with the creation of a biofeedback theory relating to brain waves see below Such biofeedback, referred to as a kind of neurofeedback, relating to alpha waves is the conscious elicitation of alpha brainwaves by a subject Two different researchers in the United States explored this concept through unrelated experiments Dr Joe Kamiya, of the University of Chicago, discovered that some individuals had the conscious ability to recognize when they were creating alpha waves, and could increase their alpha activity These individuals were motivated through a reward system from Kamiya The second progenitor of biofeedback is Dr Barry Sterman, from the University of California, Los Angeles He was working with monitoring brain waves in cats and found that, when the cats were trained to withhold motor movement, they released SMR, or mu, waves, a wave similar to alpha waves Using a reward system, he further trained these cats to enter this state more easily Later, he was approached by the United States Air Force to test the effects of a jet fuel that was known to cause seizures in humans Sterman tested the effects of this fuel on the previously-trained cats, and discovered that they had a higher resistance to seizures than non-trained cats

Alpha wave biofeedback has gained interest for having some successes in humans for seizure suppression and for treatment of depression5

Types of alpha wavesedit

Some researchers posit that there are at least two forms of alpha waves, which may have different functions in the wake-sleep cycle

Alpha waves are present at different stages of the wake-sleep cycle The most widely researched is during the relaxed mental state, where the subject is at rest with eyes closed, but is not tired or asleep This alpha activity is centered in the occipital lobe, and is presumed to originate there, although there has been recent speculation that it instead has a thalamic origin6 This wave begins appearing at around four months, and is initially a frequency of 4 waves per second The mature alpha wave, at 10 waves per second, is firmly established by age 37

The second occurrence of alpha wave activity is during REM sleep As opposed to the awake form of alpha activity, this form is located in a frontal-central location in the brain The purpose of alpha activity during REM sleep has yet to be fully understood Currently, there are arguments that alpha patterns are a normal part of REM sleep, and for the notion that it indicates a semi-arousal period It has been suggested that this alpha activity is inversely related to REM sleep pressurecitation needed

It has long been believed that alpha waves indicate a wakeful period during sleepcitation needed This has been attributed to studies where subjects report non-refreshing sleep and have EEG records reporting high levels of alpha intrusion into sleep This occurrence is known as alpha wave intrusion8 However, it is possible that these explanations may be misleading, as they only focus on alpha waves being generated from the occipital lobe

Alpha wave intrusionedit

Alpha wave intrusion occurs when alpha waves appear with non-REM sleep when delta activity is expected It is hypothesized to be associated with fibromyalgia,9 although the study may be inadequate due to a small sampling size

Despite this, alpha wave intrusion has not been significantly linked to any major sleep disorder, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and major depression However, it is common in chronic fatigued patients, and may amplify the effects of other sleep disorders10

Biofeedback trainingedit

Because of alpha waves' connection with relaxed mental states, increase in alpha wave activity is a desirable outcome for some types of biofeedback training EEG can be used to provide the subject with feedback when alpha waves increase, enabling some individuals to consciously increase alpha wave activity

There are several different prospects of this training that are currently being explored Arguably, the most popular one is the use of this training in meditation Zen-trained meditation masters produce noticeably more alpha waves during meditation This fact has led to a popular trend of biofeedback training programs for everyday stress relief11better source needed

Psychologists are hoping to use this technique to help people overcome phobias, calm down hyperactive children, and help children with stuttering problems to relax enough to practice regular speech

There are other uses of biofeedback training beyond therapy Defense Department researchers are exploring biofeedback as a way of getting captured soldiers to create alpha waves, potentially foiling enemy lie detectors Biofeedback training has also been receiving attention as a possible way of monitoring attention It has been theorized that teaching machines could use biofeedback as a way of monitoring children's attention, with the appearance of alpha waves signaling a lapse of attention12

Following this lapse-of-attention line of thought, a recent study indicates that alpha waves may be used to predict mistakes In it, MEGs measured increases of up to 25% in alpha brain wave activity before mistakes occurred This study used common sense: alpha waves indicate idleness, and mistakes are often made when a person is doing something automatically, or "on auto-pilot", and not paying attention to the task they are performing After the mistake was noticed by the subject, there was a decrease in alpha waves as the subject began paying more attention This study hopes to promote the use of wireless EEG technology on employees in high-risk fields, such as air traffic controlling, to monitor alpha wave activity and gauge the attention level of the employee13

Alpha wave artifactsedit

As demonstrated by Adrian Upton, it is possible for extraneous sources ambient fluctuations detected with a mound of Jell-O in Upton's experiments to cause signals to appear on an EEG readout, causing false signals to be interpreted as healthy alpha waves This finding suggests that it is possible that a non-flat EEG could lead to the interpretation that a patient is still living when in fact he or she is long dead

Cecil Adams from The Straight Dope discusses this scenario:

Sometimes it's claimed Jell-O brainwaves are identical to a healthy adult's That's clearly a stretch, but the Jell-O EEG readings do look pretty similar to a normal human alpha rhythm Alpha waves are observed when a patient is awake and resting with eyes closed, and in some kinds of sleep and reversible coma True, the Jell-O waves are a little slower and of much lower amplitude, barely within normal human limits, but that doesn't tell you much by itself Hypoxia, encephalitis, and other medical conditions can cause reduced frequency and amplitude, as can drug use14

See alsoedit

  • Binaural beats
  • Neural oscillation

Brain wavesedit

  • Delta wave – 02 – 3 Hz
  • Theta wave – 4 – 7 Hz
  • Alpha wave – 8 – 13 Hz
  • Mu wave – 75 – 125 Hz
  • SMR wave – 125 – 155 Hz
  • Beta wave – 16 – 31 Hz
  • Gamma wave – 32 – 100 Hz


  1. ^ Gerrard P, Malcolm R June 2007 "Mechanisms of modafinil: A review of current research" Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat 3: 349–64 PMC 2654794 PMID 19300566 
  2. ^ Palva S; Palva JM 2007 "New vistas for a-frequency band oscillations" Trends Neurosci 30: 150–158 doi:101016/jtins200702001 
  3. ^ Kolev V, Başar-Eroglu C, Aksu F, Başar E April 1994 "EEG rhythmicities evoked by visual stimuli in three-year-old children" Int J Neurosci 75: 257–70 doi:103109/00207459408986308 PMID 8050866 
  4. ^ Karbowski K "Hans Berger 1873-194" Journal of Neurology 249 8: 1310–1311 
  5. ^ Ulrich Kraft Train Your Brain-Mental exercises with neurofeedback may ease symptoms of attention-deficit disorder, epilepsy and depression--and even boost cognition in healthy brains Scientific American 2006
  6. ^ Domino E F; Ni L S; et al 2009 "Tobacco smoking produces widespread dominant brainwave alpha frequency increases" International Journal of Psychophysiology 74 3: 192–198 doi:101016/jijpsycho200908011 
  7. ^ Niedermeyer E 1997 "Alpha rhythms as physiological and abnormal phenomena" International Journal of Psychophysiology 26 1-3: 31–49 doi:101016/s0167-87609700754-x PMID 9202993 
  8. ^ Task Force Allas 1992 "ASDA report on EEG arousals: scoring rules and examples" Sleep 15 2: 173–184 
  9. ^ Germanowicz D, Lumertz MS, Martinez D, Margarites AF 2006 "Sleep disordered breathing concomitant with fibromyalgia syndrome" J Bras Pneumol 32 4: 333–8 doi:101590/s1806-37132006001100012 PMID 17268733 
  10. ^ "Alpha-delta sleep in patients with a chief complaint of chronic fatigue" Southern Medical Journal 87 4 1994 
  11. ^ http://wwwabovetopsecretcom/forum/thread711504/pg
  12. ^ Time Behavior: Alpha Wave of the Future Jul, 1971
  13. ^ "Brain Wave Patterns Can Predict Blunders, New Study Finds" UC Davis News and Information University of California, Davis campus 23 March 2009 
  14. ^ http://wwwstraightdopecom/columns/read/2942/can-brainwaves-be-detected-in-lime-jell-o

Further readingedit

  • Brazier, M A B 1970, The Electrical Activity of the Nervous System, London: Pitman 

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