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Do cortical gamma oscillations promote or suppress perception? An under-asked question with an over-assumed answer

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Will Sedley, Professor Mark Cunningham



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Cortical gamma oscillations occur alongside perceptual processes, and in proportion to perceptual salience. They have a number of properties that make them ideal candidates to explain perception, including incorporating synchronized discharges of neural assemblies, and their emergence over a fast timescale consistent with that of perception. These observations have led to widespread assumptions that gamma oscillations' role is to cause or facilitate conscious perception (i.e., a "positive" role). While the majority of the human literature on gamma oscillations is consistent with this interpretation, many or most of these studies could equally be interpreted as showing a suppressive or inhibitory (i.e., "negative") role. For example, presenting a stimulus and recording a response of increased gamma oscillations would only suggest a role for gamma oscillations in the representation of that stimulus, and would not specify what that role were; if gamma oscillations were inhibitory, then they would become selectively activated in response to the stimulus they acted to inhibit. In this review, we consider two classes of gamma oscillations: "broadband" and "narrowband," which have very different properties (and likely roles). We first discuss studies on gamma oscillations that are nondiscriminatory, with respect to the role of gamma oscillations, followed by studies that specifically support specifically a positive or negative role. These include work on perception in healthy individuals, and in the pathological contexts of phantom perception and epilepsy. Reference is based as much as possible on magnetoencephalography (MEG) and electroencephalography (EEG) studies, but we also consider evidence from invasive recordings in humans and other animals. Attempts are made to reconcile findings within a common framework. We conclude with a summary of the pertinent questions that remain unanswered, and suggest how future studies might address these.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Sedley W, Cunningham MO

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

Year: 2013

Volume: 7

Online publication date: 20/09/2013

Acceptance date: 03/09/2013

ISSN (electronic): 1662-5161



DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00595