February 26, 2021

Suppression of alpha-band power underlies exogenous attention to emotional distractors

Alpha-band oscillations (8-14 Hz) are essential for attention and perception processes by facilitating the selection of relevant information. Directing visuospatial endogenous (voluntary) attention to a given location consistently results in a power suppression of alpha activity over occipito-parietal areas contralateral to the attended visual field. In contrast, the neural oscillatory dynamics underlying the involuntary capture of attention, or exogenous attention, are currently under debate. By exploiting the inherent capacity of emotionally salient visual stimuli to capture attention, we aimed to investigate whether exogenous attention is characterized by either a reduction or an increase in alpha-band activity. Electroencephalographic activity was recorded while participants completed a Posner visuospatial cueing task, in which a lateralized image with either positive, negative, or neutral emotional content competed with a target stimulus presented in the opposite hemifield. Compared with trials with no distractors, alpha power was reduced over occipital regions contralateral to distracting images. This reduction of alpha activity turned out to be functionally relevant, as it correlated with impaired behavioural performance on the ongoing task and was enhanced for distractors with negative valence. Taken together, our results demonstrate that visuospatial exogenous attention is characterized by a suppression of alpha-band activity contralateral to distractor location, similar to the oscillatory underpinnings of endogenous attention. Further, these results highlight the key role of exogenous attention as an adaptive mechanism for the efficient detection of biologically salient stimuli.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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