The electrical activity of the brain was first demonstrated in 1929 by the German psychiatrist Hans Berger. The scientific professions were slow in giving proper attention to Berger's discovery of the brain rhythms he named alpha waves, but since then at least three other standard brainwave patterns have been isolated and identified. Alpha waves are fast, medium-amplitude oscillations, now known to represent the background activity of the brain in the physically and psychologically healthy adult. They are most characteristically visible during dream-sleep or when a subject is relaxing with eyes closed. Delta waves are large, slow-moving, regular waves, typically associated with the deepest levels of sleep. In children up to the age of puberty the appearance of high-amplitude theta waves, having a velocity between those of alpha and delta rhythms, usually signals the onset of emotional stimulation. The presence of theta waves in adults may be a sign of brain damage or of an immature personality. Beta rhythms are small, very fast wave patterns that indicate intense physiological stress, such as that resulting from barbiturate intoxification.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.