Neuronal modulation of auditory attention by informative and uninformative spatial cues

Hum Brain Mapp. 2009 May;30(5):1652-66. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20631.


Sounds provide important information about the spatial environment, including the location of approaching objects. Attention to sounds can be directed through automatic or more controlled processes, which have been well studied in the visual modality. However, little is known about the neural underpinnings of attentional control mechanisms for auditory signals. We studied healthy adults who underwent event-related FMRI while performing a task that manipulated automatic and more controlled auditory orienting by varying the probability that cues correctly predicted target location. Specifically, we examined the effects of uninformative (50% validity ratio) and informative (75% validity ratio) auditory cues on reaction time (RT) and neuronal functioning. The stimulus-onset asynchrony (SOA) between the cue and the target was either 100 or 800 ms. At the 100 ms SOA, RT was faster for valid than invalid trials for both cue types, and frontoparietal activation was greater for invalid than valid trials. At the 800 ms SOA, RT and functional activation depended on whether cues were informative or uninformative, and whether cues correctly or incorrectly predicted the target location. Contrary to our prediction, activation in a frontoparietal network was greater for uninformative than informative cues across several different comparisons and at both SOAs. This finding contrasts with similar research of visual orienting, and suggests that the auditory modality may be more biased toward automatic shifts of attention following uninformative cues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Cortex / blood supply
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Signal Detection, Psychological / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Oxygen