Loading EEG data in Python


MNE is a popular Python package for EEG/MEG processing. It offers a wide variety of useful tools including reading and writing of various file formats, filtering, independent component analysis (ICA), forward modeling, inverse solutions, time-frequency decompositions, visualization, and more. In fact, if you are familiar with EEGLAB you might find that you can perform many similar analyses with Python and MNE. In this post I will show how to load EEG data as well as view and edit associated meta information.


The first step in almost any EEG processing pipeline is loading the raw data files into memory. There are many different file formats for storing EEG data, mostly because each EEG amplifier manufacturer uses its own data format. For example, BrainProducts amplifiers store data as an EEG/VHDR/VMRK file triplet, BioSemi amplifiers create BDF files (an extension of the European Data Format), Neuroscan amplifiers use proprietary CNT files, and so on. Luckily, MNE comes with support for many popular EEG file formats.

The EEG motor movement/imagery data set we will use in this tutorial was contributed to the public domain by the developers of the BCI2000 system. In brief, they recorded 64-channel EEG from over 100 participants during motor execution and motor imagery tasks. In this tutorial, we will analyze only one participant and only one motor imagery run. If you want to follow along, go ahead and download run 4 of subject 1 (note that MNE has a dedicated loader in mne.datasets.eegbci for this data set, which makes it even easier to load particular subjects and runs). All subsequent commands assume that the file is located in the current working directory.

Now that we have selected our data, it is time to fire up Python. I recommend IPython as an enhanced interactive Python shell (go ahead and read my article on how to set up Python for EEG analysis if you do not have a working Python environment yet). You can start IPython from a terminal by typing ipython.

We want to use the MNE package, so we have to import it.

import mne

You can check the version of MNE as follows (make sure you always use the latest version):


Loading EEG data

Loading EEG data works as follows. First, we need to know the file type of the file we want to load. In our case, the data is stored in an EDF file called S001R04.edf. Second, Python needs to know exactly where this file is located. We can either specify the full path to the file, or we can make sure that the file is in the current working directory, in which case the file name alone is sufficient. In this case, we can use the following command to load the raw data:

raw = mne.io.read_raw_edf("S001R04.edf", preload=True)

The argument preload=True means that MNE performs the actual loading process immediately instead of the default lazy behavior. Also note that there are many more reader functions available in the mne.io package, including mne.io.read_raw_bdf, mne.io.read_raw_brainvision, mne.io.read_raw_cnt, and mne.io.read_raw_eeglab.

I won’t reproduce the output that is generated during the loading process here. Usually, it contains some more or less useful logging messages, so if anything goes wrong make sure to carefully study these messages. If you don’t want to see these messages, you can suppress them as follows:


This will instruct MNE to only print out warnings and errors.

Viewing and editing meta information

The previous assignment generated a Raw object in our workspace. This object holds the actual EEG data and associated meta information. We can get some basic information by inspecting this object in the interactive Python session:

<RawEDF | S001R04.edf, 64 x 20000 (125.0 s), ~9.8 MB, data loaded>

We can see the file name, the number of channels and sample points, the length in seconds, and the approximate size of the data in memory.

The meta information attribute

We can dig deeper into the meta information by inspecting the info attribute associated with raw.

<Info | 7 non-empty values
 bads: []
 ch_names: Fc5., Fc3., Fc1., Fcz., Fc2., Fc4., Fc6., C5.., C3.., C1.., ...
 chs: 64 EEG
 custom_ref_applied: False
 highpass: 0.0 Hz
 lowpass: 80.0 Hz
 meas_date: 2009-08-12 16:15:00 UTC
 nchan: 64
 projs: []
 sfreq: 160.0 Hz

There are seven non-empty values in this attribute. For example, the line chs: 64 EEG near the top of the output tells us that there are 64 EEG channels (the first few channel names are listed in the line starting with ch_names). Individual elements of raw.info can be accessed with dictionary-like indexing. For example, the sampling frequency is stored in:


Other useful info keys are:

  • "bads": A list of noisy (bad) channels which should be ignored in further analyses. Initially, this list is empty (as in our example), but we will manually populate it in a later post.
  • "ch_names": A list of channel names.
  • "chs": A detailed list of channel properties, including their types (for example, EEG, EOG or MISC).
  • "highpass" and "lowpass": Highpass and lowpass edge frequencies that were used during recording.
  • "meas_date": The recording date (a datetime.datetime object).

Renaming channels

The output of raw.info revealed that some channel names are suffixed with one or more dots. Since these are non-standard names, let’s rename the channels by removing all trailing dots:

raw.rename_channels(lambda s: s.strip("."))

Assigning a montage

For good measure (and for later use), we can assign a montage to the data (a montage relates channels names to standardized or actual locations on the scalp surface). First, let’s list all montages that ship with MNE.


According to the data set documentation, the channel locations conform to the international 10–10 system. MNE does not seem to ship a 10–10 montage, but standard_1020 contains template locations from the extended 10–20 system:

montage = mne.channels.make_standard_montage("standard_1020")

It looks like this montage contains all channels used in our example data set. Therefore, we can assign this montage to our raw object.

raw.set_montage(montage, match_case=False)


The data documentation does not mention any reference electrode, but it is safe to assume that all channels are referenced to some standard location such as a mastoid or the nose. Often, we want to re-reference EEG data to the so-called average reference (the average over all recording channels). In MNE, we can compute average referenced signals as follows:


Note that in general, methods modify MNE objects in-place.


Finally, many EEG data sets come with discrete events, either in the form of an analog stimulation channel or (text) annotations. Our example data set contains annotations that can be accessed with the annotations attribute:

<Annotations | 30 segments: T0 (15), T1 (8), T2 (7)>

We see that there are 30 annotations in total. There are three kinds of annotations named T0, T1, and T2. According to the data set description, T0 corresponds to rest, T1 corresponds to motion onset of the left fist, and T2 corresponds to motion onset of the right fist.

If you encounter a file with an analog stimulation channel (this is typically the case for data recorded with BioSemi amplifiers), you need to extract discrete events from this channel as a first step. The mne.find_events function converts information contained in an analog stimulation channel to a NumPy array of shape (N, 3), where N (the number of rows) is the number of detected events. The first column contains event onsets (in samples), whereas the third column contains (integer) event codes. The second column contains the values of the stimulation channel one sample before the detected events (this column can usually be ignored).

This NumPy array can be converted to an Annotations object using mne.annotations_from_events, which is often necessary for further analyses (note that you can associate an existing Annotations object with a Raw object by calling the raw.set_annotations method).

In the next post, I will demonstrate how to visualize this data set and how to interactively mark bad channels and bad segments.

Download the code

The script loading-eeg-data.py contains all relevant code snippets from this post.