Modality-specific selective attention attenuates multisensory integration
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Stimuli occurring in multiple sensory modalities that are temporally synchronous or spatially coincident can be integrated together to enhance perception. Additionally, the semantic content or meaning of a stimulus can influence cross-modal interactions, improving task performance when these stimuli convey semantically congruent or matching information, but impairing performance when they contain non-matching or distracting information. Attention is one mechanism that is known to alter processing of sensory stimuli by enhancing perception of task-relevant information and suppressing perception of task-irrelevant stimuli. It is not known, however, to what extent attention to a single sensory modality can minimize the impact of stimuli in the unattended sensory modality and reduce the integration of stimuli across multiple sensory modalities. Our hypothesis was that modality-specific selective attention would limit processing of stimuli in the unattended sensory modality, resulting in a reduction of performance enhancements produced by semantically matching multisensory stimuli, and a reduction in performance decrements produced by semantically non-matching multisensory stimuli. The results from two experiments utilizing a cued discrimination task demonstrate that selective attention to a single sensory modality prevents the integration of matching multisensory stimuli that is normally observed when attention is divided between sensory modalities. Attention did not reliably alter the amount of distraction caused by non-matching multisensory stimuli on this task; however, these findings highlight a critical role for modality-specific selective attention in modulating multisensory integration.
KeywordsSelective Attention Sensory Modality Divided Attention Race Model Multisensory Integration
We would like to thank Ms Elizabeth Bennett for her assistance with data collection and analyses. This research was supported by NIH grant #NS042568.