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Preparatory modulations of cortical α-band oscillations are a reliable index of the voluntary allocation of covert spatial attention. It is currently unclear whether attentional cues containing information about a target's identity (such as its visual orientation), in addition to its location, might additionally shape preparatory α modulations. Here, we explore this question by directly comparing spatial and feature-based attention in the same visual detection task while recording brain activity using magnetoencephalography (MEG). At the behavioral level, preparatory feature-based and spatial attention cues both improved performance and did so independently of each other. Using MEG, we replicated robust α lateralization following spatial cues: in preparation for a visual target, α power decreased contralaterally and increased ipsilaterally to the attended location. Critically, however, preparatory α lateralization was not significantly modulated by predictions regarding target identity, as carried via the behaviorally effective feature-based attention cues. Furthermore, nonlateralized α power during the cue-target interval did not differentiate between uninformative cues and cues carrying feature-based predictions either. Based on these results we propose that preparatory α modulations play a role in the gating of information between spatially segregated cortical regions and are therefore particularly well suited for spatial gating of information.NEW & NOTEWORTHY The present work clarifies if and how human brain oscillations in the α-band support multiple types of anticipatory attention. Using magnetoencephalography, we show that posterior α-band oscillations are modulated by predictions regarding the spatial location of an upcoming visual target, but not by feature-based predictions regarding its identity, despite robust behavioral benefits. This provides novel insights into the functional role of preparatory α mechanisms and suggests a limited specificity with which they may operate.

Original publication

DOI

10.1152/jn.00856.2016

Type

Journal article

Journal

Journal of Neurophysiology

Publication Date

03/2017

Volume

117

Pages

1385 - 1394

Addresses

Oxford Centre for Human Brain Activity, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom; and.

Keywords

Cerebral Cortex, Humans, Electroencephalography, Alpha Rhythm, Magnetoencephalography, Analysis of Variance, Photic Stimulation, Cues, Space Perception, Attention, Reaction Time, Fourier Analysis, Time Factors, Adolescent, Adult, Female, Male, Functional Laterality, Sensory Gating, Young Adult