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J Neurophysiol. 2007 Oct;98(4):2399-413. Epub 2007 Aug 22.

Spatial and cross-modal attention alter responses to unattended sensory information in early visual and auditory human cortex.

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Systems Neurobiology Laboratory, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, CA 92037-1099, USA.


Attending to a visual or auditory stimulus often requires irrelevant information to be filtered out, both within the modality attended and in other modalities. For example, attentively listening to a phone conversation can diminish our ability to detect visual events. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain responses to visual and auditory stimuli while subjects attended visual or auditory information. Although early cortical areas are traditionally considered unimodal, we found that brain responses to the same ignored information depended on the modality attended. In early visual area V1, responses to ignored visual stimuli were weaker when attending to another visual stimulus, compared with attending to an auditory stimulus. The opposite was true in more central visual area MT+, where responses to ignored visual stimuli were weaker when attending to an auditory stimulus. Furthermore, fMRI responses to the same ignored visual information depended on the location of the auditory stimulus, with stronger responses when the attended auditory stimulus shared the same side of space as the ignored visual stimulus. In early auditory cortex, responses to ignored auditory stimuli were weaker when attending a visual stimulus. A simple parameterization of our data can describe the effects of redirecting attention across space within the same modality (spatial attention) or across modalities (cross-modal attention), and the influence of spatial attention across modalities (cross-modal spatial attention). Our results suggest that the representation of unattended information depends on whether attention is directed to another stimulus in the same modality or the same region of space.

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