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A central feature of human brain activity is the alpha rhythm: a 7-13 Hz oscillation observed most notably over occipitoparietal brain regions during periods of eyes-closed rest. Alpha oscillations covary with changes in visual processing and have been associated with a broad range of neurocognitive functions. In this article, we review these associations and suggest that alpha oscillations can be thought to exhibit at least five distinct 'characters': those of the inhibitor, perceiver, predictor, communicator and stabiliser. In short, while alpha oscillations are strongly associated with reductions in visual attention, they also appear to play important roles in regulating the timing and temporal resolution of perception. Furthermore, alpha oscillations are strongly associated with top-down control and may facilitate transmission of predictions to visual cortex. This is in addition to promoting communication between frontal and posterior brain regions more generally, as well as maintaining ongoing perceptual states. We discuss why alpha oscillations might associate with such a broad range of cognitive functions and suggest ways in which these diverse associations can be studied experimentally.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur J Neurosci

Publication Date



alpha oscillations, long-range communication, stabilisation, top-down control, visual perception