Levels of complexity in scale-invariant neural signals
Many physical and physiological signals exhibit complex scale-invariant features characterized by 1/f scaling and long-range power-law correlations, indicating a possibly common control mechanism. Specifically, it has been suggested that dynamical processes, influenced by inputs and feedback on multiple time scales, may be sufficient to give rise to 1/f scaling and scale invariance. Two examples of physiologic signals that are the output of hierarchical multiscale physiologic systems under neural control are the human heartbeat and human gait. Here we show that while both cardiac interbeat interval and gait interstride interval time series under healthy conditions have comparable 1/f scaling, they still may belong to different complexity classes. Our analysis of the multifractal scaling exponents of the fluctuations in these two signals demonstrates that in contrast to the multifractal behavior found in healthy heartbeat dynamics, gait time series exhibit less complex, close to monofractal behavior. Further, we find strong anticorrelations in the sign and close to random behavior for the magnitude of gait fluctuations at short and intermediate time scales, in contrast to weak anticorrelations in the sign and strong positive correlation for the magnitude of heartbeat interval fluctuations-suggesting that the neural mechanisms of cardiac and gait control exhibit different linear and nonlinear features. These findings are of interest because they underscore the limitations of traditional two-point correlation methods in fully characterizing physiological and physical dynamics. In addition, these results suggest that different mechanisms of control may be responsible for varying levels of complexity observed in physiological systems under neural regulation and in physical systems that possess similar 1/f scaling.