Melcón, M., van Bree, S., Sánchez-Carro, Y., Barreiro-Fernández, L., Kolibius, L., Alzueta, E., … Hanslmayr, S. (2021). The spotlight of attention turns from rhythmic exploration-exploitation to a stable exploitation state. BioRxiv.
Melcón, M., Sander van Bree, Y. Sánchez-Carro, Laura Barreiro-Fernández, L. Kolibius, Elisabet Alzueta, M. Wimber, A. Capilla, and S. Hanslmayr. “The Spotlight of Attention Turns from Rhythmic Exploration-Exploitation to a Stable Exploitation State.” bioRxiv (2021).
Melcón, M., et al. “The Spotlight of Attention Turns from Rhythmic Exploration-Exploitation to a Stable Exploitation State.” BioRxiv, 2021.
While traditional studies claim that visuospatial attention stays fixed at one location at a time, recent research has rather shown that attention rhythmically fluctuates between different locations at rates of prominent brain rhythms. However, little is known about the temporal dynamics of this fluctuation and, particularly, whether it changes over time. Thus, we addressed this question by investigating how visuospatial attention behaves over space and time. We recorded electroencephalographic activity of twenty-seven human participants while they performed a visuospatial cueing task, where attention was covertly oriented to the left or right visual field. In order to decode the spatial locus of attention from neural activity, we trained and tested a classifier on every timepoint of the orienting period, from the attentional cue to stimulus onset. This resulted in one temporal generalization matrix per participant, which was time-frequency decomposed to identify the sampling rhythm. Finally, a searchlight analysis was conducted to reveal the brain regions responsible for attention allocation. Our results show a dynamic evolution of the attentional spotlight, distinguishing between two states. In an early time window, attention explored both cued and uncued hemifield rhythmically at ~10 Hz. In a later time window attention focused on the cued hemifield. Classification was driven by occipital sources, while frontal regions exclusively became involved just before the spotlight settled onto the cued location. Together, our results define attentional sampling as a quasi-rhythmic dynamic process characterized by an initial rhythmic exploration-exploitation state, which is followed by a stable exploitation state.