Weise, A., Hartmann, T., Schröger, E., Weisz, N., & Ruhnau, P. (2016). Cross-modal distractors modulate oscillatory alpha power: the neural basis of impaired task performance. Psychophysiology, 53(1651-1659).

Cross-modal distractors modulate oscillatory alpha power: the neural basis of impaired task performance

Unexpected novel sounds capture one's attention, even when irrelevant to the task pursued (e.g., playing video game). This often comes at a cost to the task (e.g., slower responding). The neural basis for this behavioral distraction effect is not well understood and is subject of this study. Our approach was motivated by findings from cuing paradigms suggesting a link between modulations in oscillatory activity and voluntary attention shifts. The current study tested whether oscillatory activity is also modulated by a task-irrelevant auditory distractor, reflecting a neural signature of an involuntary shift of attention and accounting for the impaired task performance. We reanalyzed magnetoencephalographic data collected via an auditory-visual distraction paradigm in which a task-relevant visual stimulus was preceded by a task-irrelevant sound on each trial. In 87.5% this was a regular sound (Standard); in 12.5% this was a novel sound (Distractor). We compared nonphase locked oscillatory activity in a time window prior to the visual target as a function of the experimental manipulation (Distractor, Standard). We found low power in the pretarget time window for Distractors compared to Standards in the alpha and beta frequency bands. Importantly, individual alpha power correlated with response speed on a trial-by-trial basis for the Distractor only. Sources were localized to the occipital cortex, and also to the parietal and supratemporal cortices. These findings support our hypothesis that the distractor-related alpha power modulation indexes an involuntary shift of attention which accounts for the impaired task performance.


Cognitive and Biological Psychology

University of Leipzig
Faculty of Life Sciences
Institute of Psychology
Neumarkt 9-19
D-04109 Leipzig


Dagmar Schrödl
Phone: +49 341 97-39570
Email: dagmar dot schroedl at uni-leipzig dot de

Fax: +49 341 97-39271