The magnitude of trial-by-trial neural variability is reproducible over time and across tasks in humans

Ayelet Arazi, Gil Gonen-Yaacovi, Ilan Dinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Numerous studies have shown that neural activity in sensory cortices is remarkably variable over time and across trials even when subjects are presented with an identical repeating stimulus or task. This trial-by-trial neural variability is relatively large in the prestimulus period and considerably smaller (quenched) following stimulus presentation. Previous studies have suggested that the magnitude of neural variability affects behavior such that perceptual performance is better on trials and in individuals where variability quenching is larger. To what degree are neural variability magnitudes of individual subjects flexible or static? Here, we used EEG recordings from adult humans to demonstrate that neural variability magnitudes in visual cortex are remarkably consistent across different tasks and recording sessions. While magnitudes of neural variability differed dramatically across individual subjects, they were surprisingly stable across four tasks with different stimuli, temporal structures, and attentional/cognitive demands as well as across experimental sessions separated by one year. These experiments reveal that, in adults, neural variability magnitudes are mostly solidified individual characteristics that change little with task or time, and are likely to predispose individual subjects to exhibit distinct behavioral capabilities.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere0292-17.2017
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • EEG
  • Neural noise
  • Trial-by-trial variability
  • Variability quenching

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


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