A critical assessment of connectivity measures for EEG data: A simulation study

Stefan Haufe, Vadim V. Nikulin, Klaus Robert Müller, Guido Nolte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

208 Citations (Scopus)


Information flow between brain areas is difficult to estimate from EEG measurements due to the presence of noise as well as due to volume conduction. We here test the ability of popular measures of effective connectivity to detect an underlying neuronal interaction from simulated EEG data, as well as the ability of commonly used inverse source reconstruction techniques to improve the connectivity estimation. We find that volume conduction severely limits the neurophysiological interpretability of sensor-space connectivity analyses. Moreover, it may generally lead to conflicting results depending on the connectivity measure and statistical testing approach used. In particular, we note that the application of Granger-causal (GC) measures combined with standard significance testing leads to the detection of spurious connectivity regardless of whether the analysis is performed on sensor-space data or on sources estimated using three different established inverse methods. This empirical result follows from the definition of GC. The phase-slope index (PSI) does not suffer from this theoretical limitation and therefore performs well on our simulated data.We develop a theoretical framework to characterize artifacts of volume conduction, which may still be present even in reconstructed source time series as zero-lag correlations, and to distinguish their time-delayed brain interaction. Based on this theory we derive a procedure which suppresses the influence of volume conduction, but preserves effects related to time-lagged brain interaction in connectivity estimates. This is achieved by using time-reversed data as surrogates for statistical testing. We demonstrate that this robustification makes Granger-causal connectivity measures applicable to EEG data, achieving similar results as PSI. Integrating the insights of our study, we provide a guidance for measuring brain interaction from EEG data. Software for generating benchmark data is made available.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-133
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013 Jan 1


  • EEG
  • Effective connectivity
  • GC
  • Inverse source reconstruction
  • LCMV
  • PDC
  • PSI
  • S-FLEX
  • WMN

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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