Beyond Time and Space: The Effect of a Lateralized Sustained Attention Task and Brain Stimulation on Spatial and Selective Attention

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


External organisations

  • University of Oxford
  • Trinity College Dublin


The Theory of Visual Attention (TVA) provides a mathematical formalisation of the “biased competition” account of visual attention. Applying this model to individual performance in a free recall task allows the estimation of 5 independent attentional parameters: visual short term memory capacity, speed of information processing, perceptual threshold of visual detection; attentional weights representing spatial distribution of attention (spatial bias), and
the top-down selectivity index. While the TVA focuses on selection in space, complementary accounts of attention describe how attention is maintained over time, and how temporal processes interact with selection. A growing body of evidence indicates that different facets of attention interact and share common neural substrates. The aim of the current study was to modulate a spatial attentional bias via transfer effects, based on a mechanistic understanding of the interplay between spatial, selective and temporal aspects of attention.
Specifically, we examined here: (i) whether a single administration of a lateralized sustained attention task could prime spatial orienting and lead to transferable changes in attentional weights (assigned to the left versus right hemi-field) and/or other attentional parameters assessed within the framework of TVA (Experiment 1); (ii) whether the effects of such spatial priming on TVA parameters could be further enhanced by bi-parietal high frequency tRNS (Experiment 2). Our results demonstrate that spatial attentional bias, as assessed within the TVA framework, was primed by sustaining attention towards the right hemi-field, but this spatial-priming effect did not occur when sustaining attention towards the left. Furthermore, we show that bi-parietal high-frequency tRNS combined with the rightward spatial-priming resulted in an increased attentional selectivity. To conclude, we present a novel, theory-driven method for attentional modulation providing important insights into how the spatial and temporal processes in attention interact with attentional selection.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-147
Early online date3 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018


  • spatial bias, sustained attention, spatial-priming, tRNS, attentional selection, cognitive enhancement