Statistical detection of movement activities in a human brain by separation of mixture distributions

Statistical detection of movement activities in a human brain by separation of mixture distributions

A. K. Gorshenin111Institute of Informatics Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences; Moscow State Institute of Radio Engineering, Electronics and Automation; Vavilova str., 44/2, Moscow, Russia. Email:, V. Yu. Korolev222Lomonosov Moscow State University; Institute of Informatics Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences; Leninskie Gory, Moscow, Russia. Email:, A. Yu. Korchagin333Lomonosov Moscow State University; Leninskie Gory, Moscow, Russia. Email:, T. V. Zakharova444Lomonosov Moscow State University; Leninskie Gory, Moscow, Russia. Email:, A. I. Zeifman555Vologda State University, S.Orlova, 6, Vologda, Russia; Institute of Informatics Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences; Institute of Socio-Economic Development of Territories, Russian Academy of Sciences. Email:

One of most popular experimental techniques for investigation of brain activity is the so-called method of evoked potentials: the subject repeatedly makes some movements (by his/her finger) whereas brain activity and some auxiliary signals are recorded for further analysis. The key problem is the detection of points in the myogram which correspond to the beginning of the movements. The more precisely the points are detected, the more successfully the magnetoencephalogram is processed aiming at the identification of sensors which are closest to the activity areas.

The paper proposes a statistical approach to this problem based on mixtures models which uses a specially modified method of moving separation of mixtures of probability distributions (MSM-method) to detect the start points of the finger’s movements. We demonstrate the correctness of the new procedure and its advantages as compared with the method based on the notion of the myogram window variance.

Keywords: Moving separation of mixtures; Smoothed EM algorithm; Mixtures of probability distributions; Dynamic component; Diffusive component; Myogram window variance; Method of evoked potentials; Magnetoencephalography; MEG signals; Myogram


The human brain is the center of the nervous system, the cerebral cortex processes all information. Therefore, the research of brain activity is one most important problem of modern medicine. In order to investigate human mental activity and obtain new information concerning the structure and relationships between the functional areas in the brain, various statistical methods can be used.

A precise preoperative localization of irreplaceable areas in the brain is the basis for planning of surgeries and minimization of possible postoperative aftereffects of illness for patients with brain disorders. In clinical practice, the localization of primary motor cortex (M1) is one of most important and difficult problems, especially the problem of detection of the hand activity’s area in M1. Due to various involvements of central nervous system (e. g., as a result of epilepsy), the information concerning the configuration of areas by the anatomical data is deficient.

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is a method of preoperative localization of various brain areas. It is often used in a combination with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to localize activity in the areas of the human brain. The method of evoked potentials is one of most popular techniques to determine the exact location of the motor areas of the cortex [1, 2].

The external actions and some movements of the subject can be considered as the events for the analysis by the method of evoked potentials. Such methodology leads to the increase of the signal-to-noise ratio, and it allows to reveal the brain activity corresponding to the events. The noise in this case is a superposition of the physical noise (say, generated by the noises of sensors, amplifiers, analog-to-digital conversion, external signals, network interferences, etc.) and the physiological one (which is just a background brain activity). The main problem of the method relates to the detection of the starting point of a movement.

In brief, the scheme of the experiment is as follows. The subject puts his hand on the table and taps by a forefinger for a few minutes. His/her MEG signals and myogram are recorded during the experiment. Additionally, the information about contacts with the table surface can be registered (say, by the accelerometer, photocell button, etc.). All signals are taken synchronously and with a strictly fixed sampling frequency. MEG signals are dataset of sensors located on the subject’s head, each time series is called a channel.

The main aim of the analysis of the experimental data is the detection of the area of the cerebral cortex which is responsible for the beginning of the movement. This is a particular case of the so-called inverse problem of finding the source of a signal by the characteristics of the field generated by the source. One of the simplest solutions is to find the channel with the best response by averaging parts of MEG signals over the starts of the movements. Then, the corresponding curve could be chosen to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. However, start points cannot be determined by the MEG signals due to the part of noise in channel (it equals and more). But the beginning of the movement can be found from the myogram, and this is sufficient for the averaging of MEG. At the same time, the values of a button can be used to adjust the fact of movement in the neighborhood of some point.

In the paper [3] an algorithm was proposed for solving the problem under discussion. That algorithm was aimed at the proper identification of reference points. For this purpose a simple property of a myogram was used: its window variance associated with muscle movements, due to the physiological characteristics of the human muscles, exceeds significantly the one related to the rest period (the window width is ms).

The simplest reasonable mathematical model for a myogram is a cyclic non-stationary random process which can be represented as

where the random process corresponds to the signal component related to the finger movement ( out of the movement period), is the rest noise (it equals zero during a movement), is the movement noise (it equals zero during a rest period), in neurophysiology the half-interval is called an epoch (each epoch includes the rest interval before the movement and the movement itself), is the epoch number.

The window variance obtained from the myogram is also a cyclic non-stationary process, but much less contaminated with noise. The transfer to the window variance allows to eliminate trends and to emphasize rest-to-movement transition moments which are then determined by the threshold processing. The method proposed in [3] demonstrated very high accuracy. However, due to the noticeable non-normality of the distribution of noise, within the method proposed in [3] the thresholds were determined rather artificially.

The present paper proposes some developments of the method of [3]. In the following sections we describe some statistical procedures based on mixture models designed for precise detection of the points corresponding to the beginning of movements.

Smoothing the signal by moving separation of finite mixtures

To reveal the changes of the structure of the stochastic processes in time, the so-called method of moving separation of mixtures (MSM method) is successfully used. This method was proposed in [4]. As examples of efficient performance of this method, the papers [5, 6, 7] should be mentioned containing results for the financial markets, for the traffic in information systems and for the plasma turbulence correspondingly. The key point in this method is that the volatility of the process is decomposed into two components, dynamical and diffusive.

Within the framework of this method, the one-dimensional distributions of the increments of the basic process are approximated by finite location-scale mixtures of normal distributions. The theoretical background of these models can be found in [4].

To analyze the dynamics of the changes in the stochastic process, the problem of statistical estimation of unknown parameters of distributions should be successively solved for a part of sample which moves in a direction of astronomical time (i.e., the initial sample is divided into sliding or moving sub-samples often called windows). Typically, the window (sub-sample) size is fixed. Once the analyzed parameters are obtained for a current location, the window should be moved by one element of the initial sample (i.e., the method will analyze the next sub-sample). This allows to detect all possible changes in the behavior of components.

We suppose that the cumulative density function for corresponding moment of time (location of a window) can be represented as


(for all , , , ). The model (1) is called a finite location-scale normal mixture. The parameters are weights satisfying (2). The parameter is the number of mixture components. The parameters are associated with the dynamic component of the volatility (variance) of the process, the parameters are associated with the diffusion one, see [4]. Namely, if is a random variable with distribution function (1), then its variance can be represented as the sum of two components:



The first term on the right-hand side of (3) depends only on the weights and the expected values of the components of mixture (1). Since is an increment of the basic process, then is the expected value of the increment, i. e., the trend component. Hence, the first component is the part of the total variance (changeability) which is due to existing elementary trends. It is called a dynamic component of the variance. At the same time, the second term on the right-hand side of (3) depends only on the weights and the variances of components and represents the purely stochastic diffusive component of the total variance.

Detection of starting points from the myogram by MSM method within finite mixture model

The main idea of detection of movements by the MSM method is as follows. First of all, the dynamic and diffusive components should be estimated. In most situations, various modifications of usual EM-algorithm are involved [4]. The results of such a decomposition are shown on fig. 3 (the initial myogram time series), and fig. 2 (the dynamic and diffusive volatility (variance) components).

It seems more prospective to use the obtained dynamic component of the total variance as the initial data (time series) for further analysis, see below. It is very interesting that the distribution of the values of the dynamic component obtained over the rest period is very far from being normal, see fig. 1

Figure 1: Histogram of the values of the dynamic component ov volatility for an adjustment sample (rest period) with the approximating finite normal mixture.

One of key problems in detection of movements by the MSM method is a possible time delay. The analysis is based on sub-samples, and the influence of a new moment of time (one element of the sample) could appear with a delay. But we are interested in the precise detection of movements. The solution is based on idea of double sample processing by MSM method: in forward and backward directions. Comparing the probable points for both directions, we can find right location of movements.

To detect the points of movements we use the myogram as the initial data (sample). To avoid trends in the myogram (and in the dynamic volatility component), the differences of successive elements of the sample should be found. We tested various sizes of window (e.g., , , ) to compare the character of components. In the paper we present the results for sub-samples of size equal to elements in each position of a window.

The algorithm described above was applied to the myogram. The results for both directions are represented on Fig. 2. The -axis corresponds to the time of experiments (in milliseconds), the -axis demonstrates the corresponding values of components. The thin solid lines are components (above is the dynamic component and below is the diffusive one).

We can see the balance statement of the subject at the beginning of components approximately until the point . Note that it is very important to use the diffusive component to determine the mode due to possible ambiguities in the dynamic component. We could exploit the balance statement of the subject to estimate the bounds to be used for movements detection. Fig. 1 demonstrates histogram for the sample corresponding to the balance statement of the subject. The distribution is a multimodal, it can be approximated by the mixture model (1) too. So, the standard technique based on the quantiles of unimodal distribution (like a -sigma rule for a normal distribution) cannot be used to fix the bounds. Surely, the bounds can be chosen empirically with a help of an additional information. For example, the data of photocell button could promote to evaluate the bounds for all signals in the experiment by a few movements in the beginning of a myogram. In the following sections we discuss more valid statistical approach based on the chi-squared tests.

The probable points of movements are determined by the crossings of the bounds. Next we need to group the probable points of both directions. It seems reasonable to classify groups with the help of metric related with the window size. For example, all of probable points which are located inside the interval with length , should be classified as a group. And the starting point of a movement is the average of their time locations.

Fig. 2 demonstrates the points of movements obtained by the method based on myogram window variance and by the method based on moving separation of mixtures: the vertical red dashed lines and the green triangles, respectively. We can see a good compliance between the results of the two statistical methods. The only exception is the triangle near the mark  ms (the second triangle from left). There are two reasons for that point. First, at the beginning of experiment, the subject adjusts to the conditions and can move not only his finger but his head or leg as well. But this influences the myogram. Second, for the method based on myogram window variance the information from photocell button was available. It allows to omit some false moments. For the MSM method, we had no data but the myogram.

We compared the results of the method for the components graphs. But we analyzed differences of myogram. So, it needs to compare the starting points of movements with a window variance method for initial myogram as is demonstrated in Fig. 3.

Figure 2: The forward (left) and backward (right) direction of analysis. The thin solid lines are components (a dynamic one is located on top of the figure, a diffusive component is arranged on below). The points of movements by method based on myogram window variance and by method based on moving separation of mixtures: the vertical red dashed lines and the green triangles respectively.

The -axis corresponds to the time of experiments (in ms), the -axis demonstrates the corresponding values of the myogram. The thin solid line demonstrates the signals of myogram, the vertical red solid lines and the green triangles are the movement points for two methods respectively. There are no changes for the conclusions mentioned above.

It should be noted there are a few differences between forward and backward results. The shape and values of backward diffusive components are almost coincided with a forward one except the end of graphs. For the backward mode it is an adjustment area for a smoothed EM algorithm. A similar explanation is correct for the dynamic components too. Also, a backward dynamic component is a reflection of a forward one. It can be explained by the reason that dynamic component is an expectation.

Figure 3: The myogram. The thin solid line demonstrates signals of myogram, the vertical red solid lines and the green triangles are the movement points for the window variance method [3] and moving separation of finite normal mixtures, respectively.

Detection of starting points by moving grid method from the dynamic component

The main idea is to treat the dynamic component as a random process (this is actually so) and process its distributions assuming that they are normal mixtures themselves (see fig. 1). To separate these mixtures we use the modified two-step grid-based method [8], using only its first step. As the result, we obtain the values of the weights of the th node of the grid for every window. We set the window size equal to and the window shift equal to .

In order to compare the vectors of probabilities obtained on different nonintersecting (for independence) windows, for each window with number we calculate the value

Let us set the threshold value for in scope as to highlight only extreme changes of the vector ( is the number of nodes in the grid). All are colored purple. Purple events are grouped in tight groups so that every group is continuous, meaning that it consists of windows following one another. So we do not have any issues with detecting groups instead of single events.

From each group we take the first value and shift it by (window size used for this decomposition () + window size used to obtain source data, the dynamic component ()). We also take into consideration that every group might have a reflection after the detection value. We consider the next group as a reflection if it is no further than windows apart from the original group. Reflections are excluded from the detection process.

Simple algorithm above produces the following time points (marked green, see Fig. 4) (left): , , , , , , , , , , . The actual events are (red lines): , , , , , , , , .

As we can see, between the first real event and the second real event we detect a couple of auxiliary events. All other points are estimated with the average accuracy of 7 ms, which is a great result.

Figure 4: Movement detection using the myogram volatility dynamic component decomposition, -test (left) and chi-square test (right)

The previous experiment led us to a conclusion that the vector of weights is usually volatile. Let us focus on the events themselves. If we analyze the behavior of vector inside the detected events, we notice that it is changing slower than it does outside of detected events. As the benefit from this fact we use the chi-square test to detect the periods of “stability”, which are much easier to determine.

For each window, we calculate the -value of chi-square test with 5 bins. Once this is done, we will select the windows where p-value is almost equal to , i.e. greater than . These windows are marked purple, see Fig. 4 (right).

We are interested in long periods of stability, not random (noisy) events, so we filter the groups that are less than 50 milliseconds. Once we apply this filtering, we take the first point in each group. In the previous experiment we added a fixed value of to each event. In this case the stability period is detected only once the window is fully over the event, so we need to add only milliseconds (the window size used to obtain source data, the dynamic component).

Using the method above, the following detected points are produced (marked green, shifted above purple intervals to make them more visible): , , , , , , , , , . The actual events are (red lines): , , , , , , , , .

As before, the method detects events between the first actual event and the second one, but in this case we have only one false detection, which means that this method is better. The average accuracy of real events estimation is  ms.

Detection of starting points by moving grid method from the myogram

We applied the two-step decomposition algorithm [8] to the source data, the myogram time series, directly. We used two different distribution families: Generalized Hyperbolic (GH-) [9] and Generalized Variance Gamma (GVG-) distributions [10] to fit the data. The cumulative distribution functions of both of these laws are special normal variance-mean mixtures of the form

where is the standard normal distribution function, and if is the GH-distribution function, then is the generalized inverse Gaussian distribution function [11] whereas if is the GVG-distribution function, then is the generalized gamma distribution function [12].

Both distribution families demonstrated good fit, but the GVG-distributions have slightly better -values when applying the chi-square test. Figures below demonstrate the comparison of fitting GVG-distributions and GH-distributions for two randomly chosen windows. Based on the above, for further analysis we used only the GVG-distributions.

Figure 5: GH vs GVG goodness-of-fit comparison, window no. 19251 (left) and window no. 10951 (right)

We have a particular interest in the parameter. It is volatile, but near the events it tends to rapidly decrease, and then to rapidly grow, consistently demonstrating large absolute values. This means that we are able to detect events by watching the average absolute values of .

We use threshold to select only high values (highlighted in purple, see Fig. 6). Similar to the cases above, we will group the data and select only the first value in a group. To produce final prediction, we need to subtract from the values (, the initial windows size + for average calculation).

The result is: , , , , , , , , , , , . The actual events are (red lines): , , , , , , , , .

As we can see, the “-method” detected false events around first and second actual events. Also, the detection of last event is missing. Other events are estimated very accurately ( ms).

Figure 6: Movement detection using the parameter of the GVG-distribution

Other metrics calculated for particular GVG-distributions can also be used. Any numerical characteristics (moments, quantiles, assymetry, curtosis, etc.) can be calculated and used for detection, if they demonstrate specific behavior before/after or within the analyzed events.


The paper demonstrates the efficiency of the proposed statistical methods for solving important medical problem. This method is based on mixture models and implements numerical procedures of separation of mixtures. Different techniques realizing this method are discussed. For example, the method based on MSM approach could involve the processing of additional data (from accelerometer and photocell button) to precise location of its points. In addition, using model of probability mixture, we can obtain a convenient tool for further theoretical researches in the important field of the modern medicine. The methods could be used for processing various types of signals of human brain.


The research is supported by the Russian Science Foundation, grant 14-11-00364.


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