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J Neurosci. 2014 Apr 2;34(14):4837-44. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4856-13.2014.

Behavioral oscillations in attention: rhythmic α pulses mediated through θ band.

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  • 1State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Science, Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100101, China, Department of Psychological Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755, and University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100049, China.


Neuronal oscillations are ubiquitous in the brain and contribute to perception and attention. However, most associated evidence derives from post hoc correlations between brain dynamics and behavior. Although a few recent studies demonstrate rhythms in behavior, it remains largely unknown whether behavioral performances manifest spectrotemporal dynamics in a neurophysiologically relevant manner (e.g., the temporal modulation of ongoing oscillations, the cross-frequency coupling). To investigate the issue, we examined fine spectrotemporal dynamics of behavioral time courses in a large sample of human participants (n = 49), by taking a high time-resolved psychophysical measurement in a precuing attentional task. We observed compelling dynamic oscillatory patterns directly in behavior. First, typical attentional effects are demonstrated in low-pass (0-2 Hz) filtered time courses of behavioral responses. Second, an uninformative peripheral cue elicits recurring α-band (8-20 Hz) pulses in behavioral performances, and the elicited α pulses for cued and uncued conditions are in a temporally alternating relationship. Finally, ongoing α-band power is phase locked to ongoing θ-bands (3-5 Hz) in behavioral time courses. Our findings constitute manifestation of oscillations at physiologically relevant rhythms and power-phase locking, as widely observed in neurophysiological recordings, in behavior. The findings suggest that behavioral performance actually consists of rich dynamic information and may reflect underlying neuronal oscillatory substrates. Our data also speak to a neural mechanism for item attention based on successive cycles (θ) of a sequential attentional sampling (α) process.


behavioral rhythm; cross-frequency coupling; precuing; rhythmic sampling; α pulse; θ phase

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