Brain and cognitive mechanisms of top-down attentional control in a multisensory world: Benefits of electrical neuroimaging
AUTHORS: Matusz PJ, Turoman N, Tivadar RI, Retsa C, Murray MM
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 31(3): 412-430, May 2019
In real-world environments, information is typically multisensory, and objects are a primary unit of information processing. Object recognition and action necessitate attentional selection of task-relevant from among task-irrelevant objects. However, the brain and cognitive mechanisms governing these processes remain not well understood. Here, we demonstrate that attentional selection of visual objects is controlled by integrated top-down audiovisual object representations (“attentional templates”) while revealing a new brain mechanism through which they can operate. In multistimulus (visual) arrays, attentional selection of objects in humans and animal models is traditionally quantified via “the N2pc component”: spatially selective enhancements of neural processing of objects within ventral visual cortices at approximately 150-300 msec poststimulus. In our adaptation of Folk et al.’s [Folk, C. L., Remington, R. W., & Johnston, J. C. Involuntary covert orienting is contingent on attentional control settings. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 18, 1030-1044, 1992] spatial cueing paradigm, visual cues elicited weaker behavioral attention capture and an attenuated N2pc during audiovisual versus visual search. To provide direct evidence for the brain, and so, cognitive, mechanisms underlying top-down control in multisensory search, we analyzed global features of the electrical field at the scalp across our N2pcs. In the N2pc time window (170-270 msec), color cues elicited brain responses differing in strength and their topography. This latter finding is indicative of changes in active brain sources. Thus, in multisensory environments, attentional selection is controlled via integrated top-down object representations, and so not only by separate sensory-specific top-down feature templates (as suggested by traditional N2pc analyses). We discuss how the electrical neuroimaging approach can aid research on top-down attentional control in naturalistic, multisensory settings and on other neurocognitive functions in the growing area of real-world neuroscience.