December 2022
Volume 22, Issue 14
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   December 2022
Attention rhythmically modulates the quality of sensory representations
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Laurie Galas
    Université de Paris, INCC UMR 8002, CNRS, Paris, France
  • Ian Donovan
    Statespace Labs Inc, New York, NY
  • Laura Dugué
    Université de Paris, INCC UMR 8002, CNRS, Paris, France
    Institut Universitaire de France (IUF), Paris, France
  • Footnotes
    Acknowledgements  This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 852139 - Laura Dugué).
Journal of Vision December 2022, Vol.22, 3866. doi:
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      Laurie Galas, Ian Donovan, Laura Dugué; Attention rhythmically modulates the quality of sensory representations. Journal of Vision 2022;22(14):3866.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Visual attention is not continuous over time. Both during spatial exploration and when sustained at a specific location, evidence suggests that attention rhythmically modulates information processing at low frequencies: theta (4-7Hz) during exploration and alpha (8-12Hz) for sustained attention. Yet, the specific mechanisms underlying such periodicity are unknown. Using a psychophysical reverse correlation approach, we tested the hypothesis that rhythms in performance are related to underlying fluctuations in the quality of sensory representation; specifically, changes in (1) tuning to relevant features, (2) enhancement (gain) of the target stimulus feature, and/or (3) suppression of irrelevant features. Participants performed a behavioral task in which endogenous (voluntary) attentional deployment was probed across time and spatial locations. On each trial, participants first, discriminated the position of gap in a cued (valid; 2/3) or uncued (invalid; 1/3) Landolt-C placed in the bottom left or right quadrant. Second, they detected the presence of a vertical Gabor inside each of two noise patches presented at the same two locations, at fourteen possible delays after the Landolt-C offset. The discrimination task manipulated attention, and the detection task probed attention state at each delay and location. We replicated previous results showing that sensitivity (d’) at each of the probed locations fluctuated rhythmically at the alpha frequency (~10Hz) in valid trials (attention was sustained at one location) and at theta frequency (~4Hz) in invalid trials (attention was reoriented to the opposite location; exploration). Critically, orientation tuning functions obtained from the probe task suggested that sustained attention rhythmically alters the representation of irrelevant features (extreme orientations), while exploratory attention rhythmically alters tuning to the relevant feature (vertical orientation). Our findings suggest that sustained and exploratory attention differ not only in the frequency at which they modulate performance, but also in what aspects of the underlying sensory representations they influence.


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