Robustly estimating the flow direction of information in complex physical systems
Guido Nolte, Andreas Ziehe, Vadim Nikulin, Alois Schlögl, Nicole Krämer, Tom Brismar and Klaus-Robert Müller
We propose a new measure to estimate the direction of information flux in multivariate time series from complex systems. This measure, based on the slope of the phase spectrum (Phase Slope Index) has invariance properties that are important for applications in real physical or biological systems: (a) it is strictly insensitive to mixtures of arbitrary independent sources, (b) it gives meaningful results even if the phase spectrum is not linear, and (c) it properly weights contributions from different frequencies. Simulations of a class of coupled multivariate random data show that for truly unidirectional information flow without additional noise contamination our measure detects the correct direction as good as the standard Granger causality. For random mixtures of independent sources Granger Causality erroneously yields highly significant results whereas our measure correctly becomes non-significant. An application of our novel method to EEG data (88 subjects in eyes-closed condition) reveals a strikingly clear front-to-back information flow in the vast majority of subjects and thus contributes to a better understanding of information processing in the brain.