Parallel Perceptual Enhancement and Hierarchic Relevance Evaluation in an Audio-Visual Conjunction Task

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Multisensory, Attention, Perception, Event-related potentials

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Attention directs limited-capacity information processing resources to a subset of available perceptual representations. The mechanisms by which attention selects task-relevant representations for preferential processing are not fully known. Triesman and Gelade's [Triesman, A., Gelade, G., 1980. A feature integration theory of attention. Cognit. Psychol. 12, 97–136.] influential attention model posits that simple features are processed preattentively, in parallel, but that attention is required to serially conjoin multiple features into an object representation. Event-related potentials have provided evidence for this model showing parallel processing of perceptual features in the posterior Selection Negativity (SN) and serial, hierarchic processing of feature conjunctions in the Frontal Selection Positivity (FSP). Most prior studies have been done on conjunctions within one sensory modality while many real-world objects have multimodal features. It is not known if the same neural systems of posterior parallel processing of simple features and frontal serial processing of feature conjunctions seen within a sensory modality also operate on conjunctions between modalities. The current study used ERPs and simultaneously presented auditory and visual stimuli in three task conditions: Attend Auditory (auditory feature determines the target, visual features are irrelevant), Attend Visual (visual features relevant, auditory irrelevant), and Attend Conjunction (target defined by the co-occurrence of an auditory and a visual feature). In the Attend Conjunction condition when the auditory but not the visual feature was a target there was an SN over auditory cortex, when the visual but not auditory stimulus was a target there was an SN over visual cortex, and when both auditory and visual stimuli were targets (i.e. conjunction target) there were SNs over both auditory and visual cortex, indicating parallel processing of the simple features within each modality. In contrast, an FSP was present when either the visual only or both auditory and visual features were targets, but not when only the auditory stimulus was a target, indicating that the conjunction target determination was evaluated serially and hierarchically with visual information taking precedence. This indicates that the detection of a target defined by audio-visual conjunction is achieved via the same mechanism as within a single perceptual modality, through separate, parallel processing of the auditory and visual features and serial processing of the feature conjunction elements, rather than by evaluation of a fused multimodal percept.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Brain Research, v. 1236, p. 126-139