The importance of decomposing periodic and aperiodic EEG signals for assessment of brain function in a global context

Teresa Del Bianco*, Rianne Haartsen, Luke Mason, Virginia Carter Leno, Cilla Springer, Mandy Potter, Wendy Mackay, Petrusa Smit, Carlie Du Plessis, Lucy Brink, Mark H. Johnson, Declan Murphy, Eva Loth, Hein Odendaal, Emily J.H. Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Measures of early neuro-cognitive development that are suitable for use in low-resource settings are needed to enable studies of the effects of early adversity on the developing brain in a global context. These measures should have high acquisition rates and good face and construct validity. Here, we investigated the feasibility of a naturalistic electroencephalography (EEG) paradigm in a low-resource context during childhood. Additionally, we examined the sensitivity of periodic and aperiodic EEG metrics to social and non-social stimuli. We recorded simultaneous 20-channel EEG and eye-tracking in 72 children aged 4–12 years (45 females) while they watched videos of women singing nursery rhymes and moving toys, selected to represent familiar childhood experiences. These measures were part of a feasibility study that assessed the feasibility and acceptability of a follow-up data collection of the South African Safe Passage Study, which tracks environmental adversity and brain and cognitive development from before birth up until childhood. We examined whether data quantity and quality varied with child characteristics and the sensitivity of varying EEG metrics (canonical band power in the theta and alpha band and periodic and aperiodic features of the power spectra). We found that children who completed the EEG and eye-tracking assessment were, in general, representative of the full cohort. Data quantity was higher in children with greater visual attention to the stimuli. Out of the tested EEG metrics, periodic measures in the theta frequency range were most sensitive to condition differences, compared to alpha range measures and canonical and aperiodic EEG measures. Our results show that measuring EEG during ecologically valid social and non-social stimuli is feasible in low-resource settings, is feasible for most children, and produces robust indices of social brain function. This work provides preliminary support for testing longitudinal links between social brain function, environmental factors, and emerging behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere22484
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • development
  • EEG
  • eye-tracking
  • global health
  • longitudinal


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