Orienting attention to an upcoming tactile event involves a spatially and temporally specific modulation of sensorimotor alpha- and beta-band oscillations.
van Ede F., de Lange F., Jensen O., Maris E.
Our perception is facilitated if we know where and when a sensory stimulus will occur. This phenomenon is accounted for by spatial and temporal orienting of attention. Whereas spatial orienting of attention has repeatedly been shown to involve spatially specific modulations of ongoing oscillations within sensory cortex, it is not clear to what extent anticipatory modulations of ongoing oscillations are involved in temporal orienting of attention. To address this, we recorded magnetoencephalography while human participants performed a tactile discrimination task. We cued participants to the left or the right hand, after which a tactile stimulus was presented at one of several fixed temporal delays. We thus assessed whether and how ongoing sensorimotor oscillations are modulated during tactile anticipation. We provide evidence for three phenomena. First, orienting to an upcoming tactile event involves a spatially specific contralateral suppression of alpha- and beta-band oscillations within sensorimotor cortex. Second, this modulation is deployed with temporal specificity, and this is more pronounced for beta-band compared with alpha-band oscillations. Third, the contralateral suppression of beta-band oscillations is associated with faster responses to subsequently presented tactile stimuli. Control measures showed that these results cannot be explained by motor planning or execution. We conclude that the modulation of ongoing oscillations within sensory cortex reflects a unifying mechanism underlying both spatial and temporal orienting of attention.