Attentional modulations of somatosensory alpha, beta and gamma oscillations dissociate between anticipation and stimulus processing.
van Ede F., Szebényi S., Maris E.
What are the spectral signatures of somatosensory attention? Here we show that the answer to this question depends critically on the sensory context in which attention is deployed. We recorded magnetoencephalography (MEG) in humans and investigated tactile spatial attention in two different sensory contexts: in anticipation and during the processing of sustained tactile stimuli. We observe a double dissociation between these contexts and two key electrophysiological correlates of attention: in anticipation we primarily observe an attentional suppression of contralateral alpha and beta oscillations (8-12 and 15-30 Hz, respectively), whereas during stimulus processing we primarily observe an attentional amplification of contralateral gamma oscillations (55-75 Hz). This dissociation is well explained by the different neural states that occur prior and during the stimulus, and on which attention can exert its influence. In line with analogous observations in the visual modality, this suggests that the neural implementation of attention must be understood in relation to context and existing brain states. Consequently, different signatures of attention may contribute to perception in different contexts and, as our data reveals for the attentional modulation of alpha oscillations, these are not always required for attention to improve perception. At the same time, these data demonstrate that the attentional modulations of alpha and gamma oscillations (during, respectively, attentional orienting and attentional selection), are generalizable phenomena across the different sensory modalities.