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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jul 7;112(27):8439-44. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1503686112. Epub 2015 Jun 22.

Top-down control of the phase of alpha-band oscillations as a mechanism for temporal prediction.

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Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53703;
Department of Psychology, Reed College, Portland, OR 97202;
Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53703;
Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53703; Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53703.


The physiological state of the brain before an incoming stimulus has substantial consequences for subsequent behavior and neural processing. For example, the phase of ongoing posterior alpha-band oscillations (8-14 Hz) immediately before visual stimulation has been shown to predict perceptual outcomes and downstream neural activity. Although this phenomenon suggests that these oscillations may phasically route information through functional networks, many accounts treat these periodic effects as a consequence of ongoing activity that is independent of behavioral strategy. Here, we investigated whether alpha-band phase can be guided by top-down control in a temporal cueing task. When participants were provided with cues predictive of the moment of visual target onset, discrimination accuracy improved and targets were more frequently reported as consciously seen, relative to unpredictive cues. This effect was accompanied by a significant shift in the phase of alpha-band oscillations, before target onset, toward each participant's optimal phase for stimulus discrimination. These findings provide direct evidence that forming predictions about when a stimulus will appear can bias the phase of ongoing alpha-band oscillations toward an optimal phase for visual processing, and may thus serve as a mechanism for the top-down control of visual processing guided by temporal predictions.


alpha-band phase; attention; neural oscillations; prediction; visual awareness

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