Attention samples stimuli rhythmically

Curr Biol. 2012 Jun 5;22(11):1000-4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.03.054. Epub 2012 May 24.


Overt exploration or sampling behaviors, such as whisking, sniffing, and saccadic eye movements, are often characterized by a rhythm. In addition, the electrophysiologically recorded theta or alpha phase predicts global detection performance. These two observations raise the intriguing possibility that covert selective attention samples from multiple stimuli rhythmically. To investigate this possibility, we measured change detection performance on two simultaneously presented stimuli, after resetting attention to one of them. After a reset flash at one stimulus location, detection performance fluctuated rhythmically. When the flash was presented in the right visual field, a 4 Hz rhythm was directly visible in the time courses of behavioral performance at both stimulus locations, and the two rhythms were in antiphase. A left visual field flash exerted only partial reset on performance and induced rhythmic fluctuation at higher frequencies (6-10 Hz). These findings show that selective attention samples multiple stimuli rhythmically, and they position spatial attention within the family of exploration behaviors.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Periodicity*