The Role of Alpha-Band Brain Oscillations as a Sensory Suppression Mechanism during Selective Attention

Front Psychol. 2011 Jul 5:2:154. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00154. eCollection 2011.


Evidence has amassed from both animal intracranial recordings and human electrophysiology that neural oscillatory mechanisms play a critical role in a number of cognitive functions such as learning, memory, feature binding and sensory gating. The wide availability of high-density electrical and magnetic recordings (64-256 channels) over the past two decades has allowed for renewed efforts in the characterization and localization of these rhythms. A variety of cognitive effects that are associated with specific brain oscillations have been reported, which range in spectral, temporal, and spatial characteristics depending on the context. Our laboratory has focused on investigating the role of alpha-band oscillatory activity (8-14 Hz) as a potential attentional suppression mechanism, and this particular oscillatory attention mechanism will be the focus of the current review. We discuss findings in the context of intersensory selective attention as well as intrasensory spatial and feature-based attention in the visual, auditory, and tactile domains. The weight of evidence suggests that alpha-band oscillations can be actively invoked within cortical regions across multiple sensory systems, particularly when these regions are involved in processing irrelevant or distracting information. That is, a central role for alpha seems to be as an attentional suppression mechanism when objects or features need to be specifically ignored or selected against.

Keywords: EEG; alpha; attention; biasing; brain; oscillations; selection; suppression.