Temporal attention enhances early visual processing: a review and new evidence from event-related potentials

Brain Res. 2006 Mar 3;1076(1):116-28. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2005.11.074. Epub 2006 Mar 3.


Two fundamental cognitive functions, selective attention and processing of time, have been simultaneously explored in recent studies of temporal orienting of attention. A temporal-orienting procedure may consist of a temporal analogue to the Posner's paradigm, such that symbolic cues indicate the most probable moment for target arrival. Behavioral measures suggest that performance is improved for events appearing at expected vs. unexpected moments. However, there is no agreement on the locus of stimulus processing at which temporal attention operates. Thus, it remains unclear whether early perceptual or just late motor processes can be modulated. This article reviews current ERP research on temporal orienting, with an emphasis on factors that might determine the modulation of temporal orienting at early stages of processing. We conclude that: First, late components (N2 and P300) are consistently modulated by temporal orienting, which suggests attentional preparation of decision and/or motor processes. Second, early components (e.g., N1) seem to be modulated only when the task is highly demanding in perceptual processing. Hence, we conducted an ERP experiment which aimed to observe a modulation of early visual processing by using a perceptually demanding task, such as letter discrimination. The results show, for the first time, that targets appearing at attended moments elicited a larger P1 component than unattended targets. Moreover, temporal attention modulated the amplitude and latency of N2 and P300 components. This suggests that temporal orienting of attention not only modulates late motor processing, but also early visual processing when perceptually demanding tasks are used.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception / physiology*