Facilitation and inhibition in attention: Functional dissociation of pre-stimulus alpha activity, P1, and N1 components

Neuroimage. 2016 Jan 15;125:25-35. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.09.058. Epub 2015 Oct 3.


Attention--the ability to attend to some things while ignoring others - can be best described as an emergent property of many neural mechanisms, facilitatory and inhibitory, working together to resolve competition for processing resources and control of behavior. Previous EEG and MEG studies examining the neural mechanisms underlying facilitation and inhibition of stimulus processing typically used paradigms requiring alternating shifts of attention in the spatial domain, with stimuli occurring at both attended and unattended locations. These studies generally observed greater pre-stimulus alpha oscillations over task-irrelevant vs. relevant posterior regions and bilateral attentional modulations of early sensory processing. In contrast, in the current series of experiments, participants continuously attended to only one hemifield and stimuli were only presented at the attended location, affording us an opportunity to elucidate the inhibitory and facilitatory effects of attention in the brain in a context in which spatial relevance was fixed. We found that continuous attention to one hemifield did not modulate prestimulus alpha activity in ipsilateral regions but did result in a perfectly lateralized P1 attention effect to ipsilateral posterior regions. Moreover, we found a bilateral N1 effect. These findings suggest that pre-stimulus alpha activity, the P1 and the N1 reflect qualitatively different aspects of attention; While pre-stimulus alpha-band activity may reflect a top-down inhibitory mechanism that critically depends on functional competition between task-relevant and irrelevant sensory regions, the ipsilateral P1 effect may reflect stimulus-triggered blocking of sensory processing in irrelevant networks, and the N1 effect facilitation of task-relevant processing.

Keywords: Alpha; Attention; Brain; EEG; ERP; P1.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted