Attentional changes in pre-stimulus oscillatory activity within early visual cortex are predictive of human visual performance

Brain Res. 2008 Mar 4:1197:115-22. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2007.12.063. Epub 2008 Jan 3.


Physiological and neuroimaging studies provide evidence to suggest that attentional mechanisms operating within the fronto-parietal network may exert top-down control on early visual areas, priming them for forthcoming sensory events. The believed consequence of such priming is enhanced task performance. Using the technique of magnetoencephalography (MEG), we investigated this possibility by examining whether attention-driven changes in cortical activity are correlated with performance on a line-orientation judgment task. We observed that, approximately 200 ms after a covert attentional shift towards the impending visual stimulus, the level of phase-resetting (transient neural coherence) within the calcarine significantly increased for 2-10 Hz activity. This was followed by a suppression of alpha activity (near 10 Hz) which persisted until the onset of the stimulus. The levels of phase-resetting, alpha suppression and subsequent behavioral performance varied between subjects in a systematic fashion. The magnitudes of phase-resetting and alpha-band power were negatively correlated, with high levels of coherence associated with high levels of performance. We propose that top-down attentional control mechanisms exert their initial effects within the calcarine through a phase-resetting within the 2-10 Hz band, which in turn triggers a suppression of alpha activity, priming early visual areas for incoming information and enhancing behavioral performance.

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Electrooculography
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*