Abstract

Recent findings suggest that a salient, irrelevant sound attracts attention to its location involuntarily and facilitates processing of a colocalized visual event [McDonald, J. J., Störmer, V. S., Martinez, A., Feng, W. F., & Hillyard, S. A. Salient sounds activate human visual cortex automatically. Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 9194–9201, 2013]. Associated with this cross-modal facilitation is a sound-evoked slow potential over the contralateral visual cortex termed the auditory-evoked contralateral occipital positivity (ACOP). Here, we further tested the hypothesis that a salient sound captures visual attention involuntarily by examining sound-evoked modulations of the occipital alpha rhythm, which has been strongly associated with visual attention. In two purely auditory experiments, lateralized irrelevant sounds triggered a bilateral desynchronization of occipital alpha-band activity (10–14 Hz) that was more pronounced in the hemisphere contralateral to the sound's location. The timing of the contralateral alpha-band desynchronization overlapped with that of the ACOP (∼240–400 msec), and both measures of neural activity were estimated to arise from neural generators in the ventral-occipital cortex. The magnitude of the lateralized alpha desynchronization was correlated with ACOP amplitude on a trial-by-trial basis and between participants, suggesting that they arise from or are dependent on a common neural mechanism. These results support the hypothesis that the sound-induced alpha desynchronization and ACOP both reflect the involuntary cross-modal orienting of spatial attention to the sound's location.

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