Neurophysiological coding of traits and states in the perception of pain

Enrico Schulz, Laura Tiemann, Tibor Schuster, Joachim Gross, Markus Ploner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Perception is not a simple reflection of sensory information but varies within and between individuals. This applies particularly to the perception of pain, which, in the brain, is associated with neuronal responses at different frequencies. Here, we show how these different neuronal responses subserve interindividual and intraindividual variations in the perception of identical painful stimuli. A time-frequency analysis of single trial electroencephalographic data indicates that pain-related responses in the theta frequency range but not at higher gamma frequencies code for interindividual variations in the perception of pain. In contrast, both pain-related theta and gamma responses provide different and complementary information on intraindividual variations in the pain experience. We conclude that theta responses reflect rather constant physiological and psychological traits of the individual, whereas gamma responses relate to short-term modulations of the individual's state. These findings reveal how neuronal responses at different frequencies differentially contribute to the translation of sensory information into a subjective percept.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2408-2414
Number of pages7
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Brain
  • EEG
  • Gamma oscillations
  • Pain
  • Perceptual variability


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