Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 236, Issue 10, pp 2751–2763 | Cite as

Fast periodic visual stimulation to study tool-selective processing in the human brain

  • Roxane De KeyserEmail author
  • André Mouraux
  • Genevieve L. Quek
  • Diana M. Torta
  • Valéry Legrain
Research Article


Because tools are manipulated for the purpose of action, they are often considered to be a specific object category that associates perceptual and motor properties. Their neural processing has been studied extensively by comparing the cortical activity elicited by the separate presentation of tool and non-tool objects, assuming that observed differences are solely due to activity selective for processing tools. Here, using a fast periodic visual stimulation (FPVS) paradigm, we isolated EEG activity selectively related to the processing of tool objects embedded in a stream of non-tool objects. Participants saw a continuous sequence of tool and non-tool images at a 3.7 Hz presentation rate, arranged as a repeating pattern of four non-tool images followed by one tool image. We expected the stimulation to generate an EEG response at the frequency of image presentation (3.7 Hz) and its harmonics, reflecting activity common to the processing of tool and non-tool images. Most importantly, if tool and non-tool images evoked different neural responses, we expected this differential activity to generate an additional response at the frequency of tool images (3.7 Hz/5 = 0.74 Hz). To ensure that this response was not due to unaccounted for systematic differences in low-level visual features, we also tested a phase-scrambled version of the sequence. The periodic insertion of tool stimuli within a stream of non-tool stimuli elicited a significant EEG response at the tool-selective frequency and its harmonics. This response was reduced when the images were phase-scrambled. We conclude that FPVS is a promising technique to selectively measure tool-related activity.


Electroencephalogram Tool processing Fast periodic visual stimulation 



RDK, DT, and VL are supported by the Fund for Scientific Research of the French speaking community of Belgium (F.R.S.-FNRS). DT is also supported by the Asthenes long-term structural funding Methusalem grant by the Flemish Government of Belgium. AM is supported by the ERC “Starting Grant” (PROBING PAIN 336130). GQ is supported by a co-funding initiative between the Université catholique de Louvain and the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions of the European Commission (F211800012).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing financial interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roxane De Keyser
    • 1
    Email author
  • André Mouraux
    • 1
  • Genevieve L. Quek
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • Diana M. Torta
    • 1
    • 3
  • Valéry Legrain
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Neuroscience (IoNS), Faculty of MedicineUniversité catholique de LouvainBrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Psychological Sciences Research InstituteUniversité catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  3. 3.Research Unit for Health PsychologyUniversity of LeuvenLouvainBelgium
  4. 4.Donders Center for CognitionRadbound University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

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