Pre-stimulus EEG oscillations, especially in the alpha range (8-13 Hz), can affect the integration of stimulus features into a coherent percept. The effects of alpha power are often explained in terms of alpha’s inhibitory functions, whereas effects of alpha frequency have bolstered theories of discrete perceptual cycles, where the length of a cycle, or window of integration, is determined by alpha frequency. Such studies typically employ visual detection paradigms with near-threshold or even illusory stimuli. It is unclear whether such results generalize to above-threshold stimuli. Here, we recorded electroencephalography, while measuring temporal discrimination sensitivity in a temporal order judgement task using above-threshold auditory and visual stimuli. We tested whether pre-stimulus oscillations predict audio-visual temporal discrimination sensitivity on a trial-by-trial basis. By applying a jackknife procedure to link single-trial pre-stimulus oscillatory power and instantaneous frequency to psychometric measures, we identified two highly overlapping clusters over posterior sites. One where lower alpha power was associated with higher temporal sensitivity of audiovisual discrimination, and another where higher instantaneous alpha-frequency predicted higher temporal discrimination sensitivity. A follow-up analysis revealed that these effects were not independent, and that the effect of instantaneous frequency could be explained by power modulations in the lower alpha band. These results suggest that temporal sensitivity for above-threshold multisensory stimuli changes spontaneously from moment to moment and is likely related to fluctuations in cortical excitability. Moreover, our results caution against interpreting instantaneous frequency effects as independent from power effects if these effects overlap in time and space.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience