Some people experience auditory sensations when seeing visual flashes or movements. This prevalent synaesthesia-like visually evoked auditory response (vEAR) could result either from overexuberant cross-activation between brain areas and/or reduced inhibition of normally occurring cross-activation. We have used transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) to test these theories. We applied tACS at 10 Hz (alpha band frequency) or 40 Hz (gamma band), bilaterally either to temporal or occipital sites, while measuring same/different discrimination of paired auditory (A) versus visual (V) Morse code sequences. At debriefing, participants were classified as vEAR or non-vEAR, depending on whether they reported “hearing” the silent flashes. In non-vEAR participants, temporal 10-Hz tACS caused impairment of A performance, which correlated with improved V; conversely under occipital tACS, poorer V performance correlated with improved A. This reciprocal pattern suggests that sensory cortices are normally mutually inhibitory and that alpha-frequency tACS may bias the balance of competition between them. vEAR participants showed no tACS effects, consistent with reduced inhibition, or enhanced cooperation between modalities. In addition, temporal 40-Hz tACS impaired V performance, specifically in individuals who showed a performance advantage for V (relative to A). Gamma-frequency tACS may therefore modulate the ability of these individuals to benefit from recoding flashes into the auditory modality, possibly by disrupting cross-activation of auditory areas by visual stimulation. Our results support both theories, suggesting that vEAR may depend on disinhibition of normally occurring sensory cross-activation, which may be expressed more strongly in some individuals. Furthermore, endogenous alpha- and gamma-frequency oscillations may function respectively to inhibit or promote this cross-activation.

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