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Decoding covert shifts of attention induced by ambiguous visuospatial cues

Abstract : Simple and unambiguous visual cues (e.g., an arrow) can be used to trigger covert shifts of visual attention away from the center of gaze. The processing of visual stimuli is enhanced at the attended location. Covert shifts of attention modulate the power of cerebral oscillations in the alpha band over parietal and occipital regions. These modulations are sufficiently robust to be decoded on a single trial basis from electroencephalography (EEG) signals. It is often assumed that covert attention shifts are under voluntary control, and that they also occur in more natural and complex environments, but there is no direct evidence to support this assumption. We address this important issue by using random-dot stimuli to cue one of two opposite locations, where a visual target is presented. We contrast two conditions, one in which the random-dot motion is predictive of the target location, and the other, in which it provides ambiguous information. Behavioral results show attention shifts in anticipation of the visual target, in both conditions. In addition, using the common spatial patterns (CSPs) algorithm, we extract EEG power features in the alpha-band (around 10 Hz) that best discriminate the attended location in single trials. We obtain a significant decoding accuracy in 7/10 subjects using a cross-validation procedure applied in the predictive condition. Interestingly, similar accuracy (significant in 5/10 subjects) is obtained when the CSPs trained in the predictive condition are tested in the ambiguous condition. In agreement with this result, we find that the CSPs show very similar topographies in both conditions. These results shed a new light on the behavioral and EEG correlates of visuospatial attention in complex visual environments. This study demonstrates that alpha-power features could be used in brain computer interfaces to decode covert attention shifts in an environment containing ambiguous spatial information.
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Romain E. Trachel, Maureen Clerc, Thomas G. Brochier. Decoding covert shifts of attention induced by ambiguous visuospatial cues. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Frontiers, 2015, pp.9. ⟨10.3389/fnhum.2015.00358⟩. ⟨hal-01202766⟩

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