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Beyond Statistical Significance: Implications of Network Structure on Neuronal Activity

PLoS Computational Biology
Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002311
  • Perspective
  • Biology
  • Computational Biology
  • Neuroscience


It is a common and good practice in experimental sciences to assess the statistical significance of measured outcomes. For this, the probability of obtaining the actual results is estimated under the assumption of an appropriately chosen null-hypothesis. If this probability is smaller than some threshold, the results are deemed statistically significant and the researchers are content in having revealed, within their own experimental domain, a “surprising” anomaly, possibly indicative of a hitherto hidden fragment of the underlying “ground-truth”. What is often neglected, though, is the actual importance of these experimental outcomes for understanding the system under investigation. We illustrate this point by giving practical and intuitive examples from the field of systems neuroscience. Specifically, we use the notion of embeddedness to quantify the impact of a neuron's activity on its downstream neurons in the network. We show that the network response strongly depends on the embeddedness of stimulated neurons and that embeddedness is a key determinant of the importance of neuronal activity on local and downstream processing. We extrapolate these results to other fields in which networks are used as a theoretical framework.

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