Attention and temporal expectations modulate power, not phase, of ongoing alpha oscillations

J Cogn Neurosci. 2015 Aug;27(8):1573-86. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00803. Epub 2015 Mar 16.


The perception of near-threshold visual stimuli has been shown to depend in part on the phase (i.e., time in the cycle) of ongoing alpha (8-13 Hz) oscillations in the visual cortex relative to the onset of that stimulus. However, it is currently unknown whether the phase of the ongoing alpha activity can be manipulated by top-down factors such as attention or expectancy. Using three variants of a cross-modal attention paradigm with constant predictable stimulus onsets, we examined if cues signaling to attend to either the visual or the auditory domain influenced the phase of alpha oscillations in the associated sensory cortices. Importantly, intermixed in all three experiments, we included trials without a target to estimate the phase at target presentation without contamination from the early evoked responses. For these blank trials, at the time of expected target and distractor onset, we examined (1) the degree of the uniformity in phase angles across trials, (2) differences in phase angle uniformity compared with a pretarget baseline, and (3) phase angle differences between visual and auditory target conditions. Across all three experiments, we found that, although the cues induced a modulation in alpha power in occipital electrodes, neither the visual condition nor the auditory cue condition induced any significant phase-locking across trials during expected target or distractor presentation. These results suggest that, although alpha power can be modulated by top-down factors such as attention and expectation, the phase of the ongoing alpha oscillation is not under such control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alpha Rhythm / physiology*
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult