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Title: Automatic visuospatial attention shifts : perceptual correlates, interventions and oscillatory signatures
Author: Ahrens, Merle-Marie
ISNI:       0000 0004 7427 3888
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2018
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Our visual perception is shaped by both external and internal factors, which continuously compete for limited neural resources. Salient external (exogenous) events capture our attention automatically, whereas internal (endogenous) attention can be directed towards sensory events according to our current behavioural goals. Advances in neuroimaging and brain stimulation have allowed us to begin to map the underlying functional neural architecture mediating both exogenously driven and endogenously controlled visual attention, including electrophysiological techniques such as electroencephalography and magnetoencephalography (EEG/MEG). However, while the neural EEG/MEG correlates of endogenously controlled attention have been investigated in much detail, the neural EEG/MEG correlates of exogenously driven attention are substantially less well understood. One reason for this is that exogenously driven effects are difficult to isolate from the influence of endogenous control processes. In a series of three experiments, I sought to: 1) Study how the perceptual outcomes of both endogenously and exogenously driven attention can be effectively dissociated and investigated. 2) Provide a better understanding of the functional architecture of attention control in regards to its underlying neural substrates and oscillatory signatures, particularly when exogenously driven. To this end, I employed a visuospatial attention paradigm which, by design, behaviourally dissociates exogenous from endogenously driven effects (experiment 1). Furthermore, by utilizing the same behavioural paradigm in combination with neuronavigated MRI-based transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over two key attentional network nodes (i.e., the right intraprarietal sulcus and right temporo-parietal junction), I probed the extent to which the neural substrates of endogenous vs. exogenous orienting are overlapping or can be dissociated (experiment 2). Lastly, I used electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate the oscillatory signatures underlying attention in a task which is typically employed to study exogenous orienting and which putatively triggers exogenous attention in isolation (experiment 3). The results revealed that while exogenous attentional processes can be behaviourally dissociated from endogenous attention (experiment 1), the neural substrates of exogenous attention appear to cover a wide network of attention areas. This includes nodes in both the right ventral attention network (i.e., right temporo-parietal junction) but also the right dorsal network (i.e., the right intraparietal sulcus), which has predominantly been associated with endogenous attention control (experiment 2). Interestingly, even in tasks that have been utilized to test exogenous attentional effects in isolation, endogenous control processes, as indexed by increased mid-frontal theta-band activity, can heavily influence the behavioural outcome (experiment 3). Based on these results, I conclude that there appears to be strong interplay between endogenous control and exogenously driven attention processes. These findings highlight that in order to better understand the functional architecture of (purely) exogenously driven effects, we need to effectively account for the potential influence of endogenous control. One approach to achieve this is by manipulating both types of attention simultaneously instead of in separation, as illustrated in the present work.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: BF Psychology ; Q Science (General)