Slow potentials, event-related potentials, 'gamma-band' activity, and motor responses during aversive conditioning in humans

Herta Flor, Niels Birbaumer, Larry E. Roberts, Bernd Feige, Werner Lutzenberger, Christiane Hermann, Bruno Kopp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We examined slow potentials, transient event-related potentials, and oscillatory-like responses in the electroencephalogram during aversive conditioning in humans, in order to determine what is happening in the neocortex when behavioral adaptations are learned. Pictures of an angry and a happy human face served as reinforced (CS+) and unreinforced (CS-) conditioned stimuli, respectively, in one group, and either the reversed condition or two discriminably different neutral faces in two other groups (total n = 48 subjects). The unconditioned stimulus (US) was intracutaneous shock delivered to the left hand 5 s after CS+ onset. The electroencephalographic (EEG) activity was recorded from Fz, Cz, Pz, C3, and C4, electromyographic (EMG) activity from bilateral forearm and corrugator muscles, and skin conductance from the right hand. During acquisition a negative slow potential developed after CS+ (not CS-), which was more pronounced when a neutral face served as CS+. Early (iCNV, initial contingent negative variation) and late (tCNV, terminal contingent negative variation) components of the slow-potential response were positively related to the magnitude of conditioned EMG responses. Differentiation of tCNV was larger when neutral faces signaled the US; iCNV persisted during extinction when a happy face served as CS+. Late-occurring event-related potentials (ERPs) elicited by the US diminished over conditioning, whereas short-latency US components and ERPs elicited by CS events did not. Fourier analysis revealed oscillatory ('gamma-band') activity between 30 and 40 Hz, which persisted up to 3 s after US delivery and diminished as conditioning progressed. Our findings indicate that learning is expressed in neocortical structures at the earliest stages of conditioning. The functional roles of the three types of EEG response in learning are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-312
Number of pages15
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1996


  • Cholinergic modulation
  • Event-related potentials
  • Gamma-band activity
  • Human
  • Motor conditioning
  • Pavlovian conditioning
  • Skin conductance
  • Slow potentials

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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