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Hans Berger

By Antonio E.Nardi

Hans Berger was born on May 21, 1873, in Neuses, Germany. He received his medical degree from the University of Jena, in 1897.  Subsequently, he joined Otto Ludwig Binswanger’s Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at the University of Jena, to become his successor, as Professor and Director of the Clinic in 1919 (Millett 2001). During this period of over 20 years, through an opening made by trephination on the skull, he investigated blood circulation and brain temperature (Berger 1904-7; 1910); studied the influence of heartbeat, respiration, vasomotor functions, and position of the head and body on brain pulsations; and explored the effects of medications, such as camphor, digitoxin, caffeine, cocaine, and morphine on brain pulsations (Berger 1921).

In 1924, Berger was first to record brain electrical activity (rhythms) in man by electrodes placed on the scalp of human volunteers. He referred to the record obtained as the Elektroenzephalogram and the procedure was to become known as electroencephalography (EEG). By the time he first published his findings, in 1929, Berger recognized that the dominant oscillations in normal subjects were 10 cycles per second (“alpha”-waves to be referred to later as “Berger’s waves”) with lesser amount of waves of lower voltage and faster frequencies (“beta” waves) and higher voltage slower rhythms (“theta” waves and “delta” waves); as well as that the electrical waves were best defined when subjects were at rest with eyes closed; that eye opening produced “alpha” blockade”, i.e., replacement of “alpha” waves by  “beta” waves; and that the waves changed with mental activity, e.g., by doing simple calculations (Fink 2004).  Pursuing further his research, in the early 1930s, Berger had shown the effects of drugs on the EEG and by the late 1930s, he also demonstrated relationships between EEG changes and behavior (Berger 1931, 1938). Thus, after subcutaneous administration of 30 mg cocaine, the amplitude of alpha waves increased at the time the pupils were dilated, pulse rate was rapid and alertness enhanced; in chloroform – induced anesthesia, EEG amplitudes progressively decreased as narcosis deepened and then increased, when narcosis waned; in scopolamine-induced delirium, the frequency of beta waves increased, whereas in scopolamine-induced sedation, the frequency of alpha waves decreased; and during the time of behavioral control in agitated psychotic patients with 20 mg morphine and 1 mg scopolamine, the EEG was desynchronized with a loss of rhythmic alpha activity (Fink 1998).

By the end of the 1930s, the EEG was recognized as a diagnostic tool in neurology. Hans Berger died in Jena on June 1, 1941 at age 68.

Berger, H. Über die körperlichen äusserungen psychischer zustände: Weiteree xperimentelle beiträge zur lehre von der blutzirkulation in der schädelhöhle des menschen. Jena: Gustav Fischer; 1904-7.

Berger, H. Untersuchungen über die Temperatur des Gehirns. Jena: Gustav Fischer; 1910.

Berger H. Psychophyiologie in 12 Vorläsungen.Jena: Fischer Verlag; 1921.

Berger  H. Über das Elektroenzenkephalogram des Menschen. Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten 1929; 87: 527-70.

Berger  H. Über das Elektroenzenkephalogram des Menschen. Archiv fürPsychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten 1931; 94: 16-60.

Berger  H. Über das Elektroenzenkephalogram des Menschen. Vierzehnte Mitteilung. Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten 1938; 106: 577-84.

Fink M. Pharmaco-electroencephalography. A debate in psychophar-macology. In: Ban TA, Healy D, Shorter E, eds. The Rise of Psychoharmacology and the Story of CINP. Budapest: Animula; 1998, 151-6.

Fink M. Pyharmaco-electroencephalography. A selective history of brain responses to psychoactive drugs. In: Ban TA, Healy D, Shorter E, eds. Reflections on Twentieth-Century Psychopharmacology. Budapest: Animula; 2004, 661-72.  

Millett D. From Psychic Energy to the EEG.Perspectives I Psychology and Medicine 2001; 44: 522-42.

Antonio E. Nardi

June 26, 2014