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Nat Commun. 2014 Oct 15;5:5255. doi: 10.1038/ncomms6255.

Motor contributions to the temporal precision of auditory attention.

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Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, New York 10032, USA.
1] Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, New York 10032, USA [2] Cognitive Neuroscience and Schizophrenia Program, Nathan Kline Institute, Orangeburg, New York 10962, USA.
Département d'Etudes Cognitives, Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives, Inserm unit 960, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris 75005, France.


In temporal-or dynamic-attending theory, it is proposed that motor activity helps to synchronize temporal fluctuations of attention with the timing of events in a task-relevant stream, thus facilitating sensory selection. Here we develop a mechanistic behavioural account for this theory by asking human participants to track a slow reference beat, by noiseless finger pressing, while extracting auditory target tones delivered on-beat and interleaved with distractors. We find that overt rhythmic motor activity improves the segmentation of auditory information by enhancing sensitivity to target tones while actively suppressing distractor tones. This effect is triggered by cyclic fluctuations in sensory gain locked to individual motor acts, scales parametrically with the temporal predictability of sensory events and depends on the temporal alignment between motor and attention fluctuations. Together, these findings reveal how top-down influences associated with a rhythmic motor routine sharpen sensory representations, enacting auditory 'active sensing'.

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