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Exp Brain Res. 2001 Aug;139(4):398-411.

Cross-modal links in endogenous spatial attention are mediated by common external locations: evidence from event-related brain potentials.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK. m.eimer@bbk.ac.uk


Recent behavioural and event-related potential (ERP) studies reported cross-modal links in spatial attention between vision, audition and touch. Such links could reflect differences in hemispheric-activation levels associated with spatial attention to one side, or more abstract spatial reference-frames mediating selectivity across modalities. To distinguish these hypotheses, ERPs were recorded to lateral tactile stimuli, plus visual (experiment 1) or auditory stimuli (experiment 2), while participants attended to the left or right hand to detect infrequent tactile targets, and ignored other modalities. In separate blocks, hands were either in a crossed or uncrossed posture. With uncrossed hands, visual stimuli on the tactually attended side elicited enhanced N1 and P2 components at occipital sites, and an enhanced negativity at midline electrodes, reflecting cross-modal links in spatial attention from touch to vision. Auditory stimuli at tactually attended locations elicited an enhanced negativity overlapping with the N1 component, reflecting cross-modal links from touch to audition. An analogous pattern of results arose for crossed hands, with tactile attention enhancing auditory or visual responses on the side where the attended hand now lay (i.e. in the opposite visual or auditory hemifield to that enhanced by attending the same hand when uncrossed). This suggests that cross-modal attentional links are not determined by hemispheric projections, but by common external locations. Unexpectedly, somatosensory ERPs were strongly affected by hand posture in both experiments, with attentional effects delayed and smaller for crossed hands. This may reflect the combined influence of anatomical and external spatial codes within the tactile modality, while cross-modal links depend only on the latter codes.

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