Attentional modulation of SSVEP power depends on the network tagged by the flicker frequency

Cereb Cortex. 2006 Jul;16(7):1016-29. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhj044. Epub 2005 Oct 12.


Modulation of the steady-state visual evoked potential (SSVEP) by attention was studied in detail using 15 'tag' frequencies in the range of 2.5-20 Hz. The stimuli were two series of random disc search arrays superimposed on two concentric color-marked annuli respectively. Two series of arrays were updated independently; one updated at one fixed frequency (flicker) and the other updated randomly according to a white noise distribution (random broadband flicker, rbbf). On each trial, the observer was instructed to attend one annulus and to detect a target (a triangle) that occasionally appeared in a random disc array in the attended annulus. The SSVEP results show that the choice of flicker frequency selects which cortical network synchronizes to the flicker two distinct cortical networks showed different effects of attention. SSVEP power and the effects of attention on SSVEP power strongly depend on both flicker frequency and radial position of rbbf annulus. At flicker frequencies in the delta band (2-4 Hz), and in the upper alpha band (10-11 Hz), an occipital-frontal network appears to phase-lock to the flicker when attending to the flicker, increasing the magnitude of the SSVEP. At flicker frequencies in the lower alpha band (8-10 Hz), a global response to a peripheral flickering stimulus, that includes parietal cortex and posterior frontal cortex, has higher amplitude when attention is directed away from the flickering peripheral stimulus and towards a competing rbbf stimulus in the fovea. Increases in SSVEP power when attention is directed to peripheral flicker are always associated with increases in phase locking. By contrast, at frequencies in the lower alpha band, increases in SSVEP power when attention is directed away from the flicker and towards foveal stimuli are not associated with changes in phase-locking. Thus, whether attention to a flicker stimulus increases or decreases SSVEP amplitude and phase locking depends on which of two cortical networks, which have distinct spatial and dynamic properties, is selected by the flicker frequency.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Flicker Fusion / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*