Multisensory dynamics of selective attention in the human brain: a combined neurodisruption and neuroimaging project

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Psychology


Selective attention is vital for normal human behaviour. Mechanisms of attention enable us to allocate limited brain resources to the most important sensory events. Although attention has been studied for several decades in psychology, much remains to be discovered about the brain mechanisms of attentional control, particularly in relation to interactions between different senses (e.g. vision, touch, hearing). The research described in this proposal will employ a unique combination of neuroscience methods to probe the basis of selective attention in the healthy human brain. In particular, we will investigate attentional processes in vision and touch through concurrent stimulation (TMS) and recording (fMRI) of human brain activity. By combining these techniques simultaneously, we will address the crucial unanswered question of how attentional mechanisms in high-level brain regions control activity in lower sensory areas, both within and between different sensory modalities. Overall, this research promises to make an important contribution to our understanding of the brain mechanisms that support human perception and attention.

Technical Summary

Mechanisms of selective spatial attention are essential for allocating limited neural resources to the most important sensory events. Converging evidence suggests that attention biases or gates' low-level representations in the sensory cortex (e.g. V1-V5 for vision; S1 and S2 for touch), but the source and mechanism of these biasing signals remains largely unknown. Although disruption of the frontal and parietal cortex is known to impair the spatial orienting of attention, it is unclear whether these regions are sources or targets of attentional signals. Furthermore, relatively little is known about how attentional processing in one modality impacts on neural sensory representations in other modalities. The research described in this proposal will address these questions with a new approach by combining neurodisruption and neuroimaging methods. Specifically, the project will employ transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to simultaneously disrupt and record neural activity that is vital for attentional control. By combining fMRI with TMS inside the scanner, the present study provides a novel framework to establish the effects of cortical interference on attentional mechanisms in the human brain. Study 1 will combine these techniques to establish the source of preparatory control signals between frontoparietal and sensory cortex, both within and between the modalities of vision and touch. Study 2 will establish whether the same regions and functional connections that mediate spatial orienting are important for resolving attentional competition between simultaneous sensory inputs.'


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Description Academic Expertise for Business (A4B) grant
Amount £349,885 (GBP)
Funding ID HE 07 COL 3012 
Organisation Welsh Assembly 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 01/2010 
End 03/2013
Description Institutional Strategic Support Fund grant
Amount £33,572 (GBP)
Organisation Wellcome Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 02/2014 
End 02/2015
Description Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship (KESS) - PhD Studentship
Amount £55,000 (GBP)
Organisation European Commission 
Department European Social Fund
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 07/2010 
End 07/2013
Description Small research grants (x6)
Amount £55,141 (GBP)
Organisation Government of Wales 
Department Wales Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 06/2008 
End 12/2011