Investigating the Neural Correlates of Automatic Attention Shifts in Electroencephalography

Ahrens, M., Veniero, D., Harvey, M. and Thut, G. (2017) Investigating the Neural Correlates of Automatic Attention Shifts in Electroencephalography. Vision Sciences Society Seventeenth Annual Meeting, St. Pete Beach, FL, USA, 19-24 May 2017.

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Previous research has highlighted posterior oscillations in the alpha-band to play a key role in goal-directed (top-down) visuospatial attention (Foxe & Snyder 2011). However, the oscillatory signatures of automatically driven (bottom-up) alerting and orienting of attention remain uncertain. Likewise, it is unclear to what extend these automatic processes are influenced by top-down components, such as mid-frontal oscillatory activity in the theta-band. These oscillations are associated with cognitive control processes activated when goal directed bias over habitual responses is needed (Cavanagh & Frank 2014). Here, we employed electroencephalography to investigate the neural correlates of automatic attentional engagement in healthy participants. We utilized an exogenously cued dot detection task. Following a non-predictable spatial cue or no-cue, targets were presented at cued or non-cued positions at four different cue-target delays (ranging from 105.8-705.8ms), known to induce initial attentional benefits and later inhibition-of-return (IOR). This experimental manipulation allowed us to investigate both automatic alerting (cue vs. no-cue independent of space) and automatic (re)orienting (cued vs. uncued position) at early and later stages of spatial attention processes. Between-subject correlations of reaction times (RTs) and alpha-power revealed that individuals who showed an early alerting effect (faster RTs in cue vs. no-cue) exhibited stronger alpha-band desynchronization over occipital regions before target onset (independent of space and hemisphere). Notably, the same analysis also revealed a negative influence of mid-frontal theta activity (P300) over alerting, where individuals with higher central theta-power displayed slower RT. Interestingly, central theta-increases also negatively affected later spatial components of automatic attention (i.e. IOR), where IOR was abolished in individuals with higher theta power. These results suggest an interplay between top-down processes and automatic attention mechanisms, in accordance with cognitive control overriding reflexive processes. They highlight the need to control for the engagement of higher-order computations in order to better understand the neural correlates of automatic processes in isolation.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Additional Information:Abstract published in Journal of Vision 17(10):384,
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Thut, Professor Gregor and Harvey, Professor Monika and Ahrens, Miss Merle and Veniero, Dr Domenica
Authors: Ahrens, M., Veniero, D., Harvey, M., and Thut, G.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Psychology & Neuroscience
College of Science and Engineering > School of Psychology
Journal Name:Journal of Vision

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