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J Neurosci. 2012 Aug 29;32(35):12294-302. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0867-12.2012.

Attention distributed across sensory modalities enhances perceptual performance.

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Department of Neurology, Physiology and Psychiatry, Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94158, USA.


This study investigated the interaction between top-down attentional control and multisensory processing in humans. Using semantically congruent and incongruent audiovisual stimulus streams, we found target detection to be consistently improved in the setting of distributed audiovisual attention versus focused visual attention. This performance benefit was manifested as faster reaction times for congruent audiovisual stimuli and as accuracy improvements for incongruent stimuli, resulting in a resolution of stimulus interference. Electrophysiological recordings revealed that these behavioral enhancements were associated with reduced neural processing of both auditory and visual components of the audiovisual stimuli under distributed versus focused visual attention. These neural changes were observed at early processing latencies, within 100-300 ms poststimulus onset, and localized to auditory, visual, and polysensory temporal cortices. These results highlight a novel neural mechanism for top-down driven performance benefits via enhanced efficacy of sensory neural processing during distributed audiovisual attention relative to focused visual attention.

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