This study used high-density mapping of human event-related potentials to examine the brain activity associated with selective information processing when subjects were cued on a trial-by-trial basis to perform a discrimination in either the visual or auditory modality. On each trial, word-cues (S1) instructed subjects to attend to features within one sensory-modality of an impending compound auditory-visual stimulus (S2) that arrived approximately 1-second following the cue. Subjects made a discrimination within the cued modality of the S2 stimulus. The spatio-temporal patterns of activity in response to the compound S2 stimulus were examined as a function of the sensory modality being attended. The earliest effects of intersensory attention on visual processing were seen subsequent to the initial activation of visual cortex, beginning at 80 ms and continuing into the P1 and N1 components of the visual ERP. The scalp-topography of this earliest modulation was consistent with modulation of activity in ventral visual stream areas. Thus, the locus of effects on visual S2 processing differed from the anticipatory parieto-occipital biasing activity that preceded S2 presentation. This pattern of effects strongly suggests that the anticipatory activity (following the cue) associated with sustaining the focus of attention during intersensory attention, at least in the context of this paradigm, does not operate as a simple gain mechanism in early visual sensory areas. Rather, attentional biasing can operate through a higher-order process whereby parieto-occipital cortices influence the subsequent flow of visual processing in the ventral stream.
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