Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 213, Issue 2–3, pp 321–327 | Cite as

Sustained selective intermodal attention modulates processing of language-like stimuli

  • Christian Keitel
  • Erich Schröger
  • Katja Saupe
  • Matthias M. MüllerEmail author
Research Article


Intermodal attention (IA) is assumed to allocate limited neural processing resources to input from one specific sensory modality. We investigated effects of sustained IA on the amplitude of a 40-Hz auditory (ASSR) and a 4.3-Hz visual steady-state response (VSSR). To this end, we concurrently presented amplitude-modulated multi-speech babble and a stream of nonsense letter sets to elicit the respective brain responses. Subjects were cued trialwise to selectively attend to one of the streams for several seconds where they had to perform a lexical decision task on occasionally occurring words and pseudowords. Attention to the auditory stream led to greater ASSR amplitudes than attention to the visual stream. Vice versa, the VSSR amplitude was greater when the visual stream was attended. We demonstrate that IA research by means of frequency tagging can be extended to complex stimuli as used in the current study. Furthermore, we show not only that IA selectively modulates processing of concurrent multisensory input but that this modulation occurs during trial-by-trial cueing of IA. The use of frequency tagging may be suitable to study the role of IA in more naturalistic setups that comprise a larger number of multisensory signals.


Human EEG Intermodal attention Sustained attention VSSR ASSR Speech 



We thank Renate Zahn for help in data recording. Special thanks to Andreas Widmann for technical support. Further thanks to Anne Melzer, Philipp Ruhnau and two anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript. This experiment was realised using Cogent 2000 developed by the Cogent 2000 team at the FIL and the ICN and Cogent Graphics developed by John Romaya at the LON at the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience. Work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, graduate programme “Function of Attention in Cognition” (GRK 1182).

Conflict of interest

None declared.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Keitel
    • 1
  • Erich Schröger
    • 1
  • Katja Saupe
    • 1
  • Matthias M. Müller
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Institut für PsychologieUniversität LeipzigLeipzigGermany

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