Pre-stimulus activity predicts the winner of top-down vs. bottom-up attentional selection.

A Mazaheri, NE DiQuattro, J Bengson, JJ Geng

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Our ability to process visual information is fundamentally limited. This leads to competition between sensory information that is relevant for top-down goals and sensory information that is perceptually salient, but task-irrelevant. The aim of the present study was to identify, from EEG recordings, pre-stimulus and pre-saccadic neural activity that could predict whether top-down or bottom-up processes would win the competition for attention on a trial-by-trial basis. We employed a visual search paradigm in which a lateralized low contrast target appeared alone, or with a low (i.e., non-salient) or high contrast (i.e., salient) distractor. Trials with a salient distractor were of primary interest due to the strong competition between top-down knowledge and bottom-up attentional capture. Our results demonstrated that 1) in the 1-sec pre-stimulus interval, frontal alpha (8–12 Hz) activity was higher on trials where the salient distractor captured attention and the first saccade (bottom-up win); and 2) there was a transient pre-saccadic increase in posterior-parietal alpha (7–8 Hz) activity on trials where the first saccade went to the target (top-down win). We propose that the high frontal alpha reflects a disengagement of attentional control whereas the transient posterior alpha time-locked to the saccade indicates sensory inhibition of the salient distractor and suppression of bottom-up oculomotor capture.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPLOS One
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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