Identifying Granger causal relationships between neural power dynamics and variables of interest

Irene Winkler, Stefan Haufe, Anne K. Porbadnigk, Klaus Robert Müller, Sven Dähne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Power modulations of oscillations in electro- and magnetoencephalographic (EEG/MEG) signals have been linked to a wide range of brain functions. To date, most of the evidence is obtained by correlating bandpower fluctuations to specific target variables such as reaction times or task ratings, while the causal links between oscillatory activity and behavior remain less clear. Here, we propose to identify causal relationships by the statistical concept of Granger causality, and we investigate which methods are bests suited to reveal Granger causal links between the power of brain oscillations and experimental variables.As an alternative to testing such causal links on the sensor level, we propose to linearly combine the information contained in each sensor in order to create virtual channels, corresponding to estimates of underlying brain oscillations, the Granger-causal relations of which may be assessed. Such linear combinations of sensor can be given by source separation methods such as, for example, Independent Component Analysis (ICA) or by the recently developed Source Power Correlation (SPoC) method.Here we compare Granger causal analysis on power dynamics obtained from i) sensor directly, ii) spatial filtering methods that do not optimize for Granger causality (ICA and SPoC), and iii) a method that directly optimizes spatial filters to extract sources the power dynamics of which maximally Granger causes a given target variable. We refer to this method as Granger Causal Power Analysis (GrangerCPA).Using both simulated and real EEG recordings, we find that computing Granger causality on channel-wise spectral power suffers from a poor signal-to-noise ratio due to volume conduction, while all three multivariate approaches alleviate this issue. In real EEG recordings from subjects performing self-paced foot movements, all three multivariate methods identify neural oscillations with motor-related patterns at a similar performance level. In an auditory perception task, the application of GrangerCPA reveals significant Granger-causal links between alpha oscillations and reaction times in more subjects compared to conventional methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-504
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2015 May 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Inc.


  • EEG
  • Granger causality
  • MEG
  • Oscillations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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