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PLoS One. 2014 Sep 9;9(9):e106896. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0106896. eCollection 2014.

Attention modulates visual-tactile interaction in spatial pattern matching.

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Department of Neurophysiology and Pathophysiology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2014;9(12):e115930.


Factors influencing crossmodal interactions are manifold and operate in a stimulus-driven, bottom-up fashion, as well as via top-down control. Here, we evaluate the interplay of stimulus congruence and attention in a visual-tactile task. To this end, we used a matching paradigm requiring the identification of spatial patterns that were concurrently presented visually on a computer screen and haptically to the fingertips by means of a Braille stimulator. Stimulation in our paradigm was always bimodal with only the allocation of attention being manipulated between conditions. In separate blocks of the experiment, participants were instructed to (a) focus on a single modality to detect a specific target pattern, (b) pay attention to both modalities to detect a specific target pattern, or (c) to explicitly evaluate if the patterns in both modalities were congruent or not. For visual as well as tactile targets, congruent stimulus pairs led to quicker and more accurate detection compared to incongruent stimulation. This congruence facilitation effect was more prominent under divided attention. Incongruent stimulation led to behavioral decrements under divided attention as compared to selectively attending a single sensory channel. Additionally, when participants were asked to evaluate congruence explicitly, congruent stimulation was associated with better performance than incongruent stimulation. Our results extend previous findings from audiovisual studies, showing that stimulus congruence also resulted in behavioral improvements in visuotactile pattern matching. The interplay of stimulus processing and attentional control seems to be organized in a highly flexible fashion, with the integration of signals depending on both bottom-up and top-down factors, rather than occurring in an 'all-or-nothing' manner.

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