Spontaneous Alpha Power Lateralization Predicts Detection Performance in an Un-Cued Signal Detection Task

PLoS One. 2016 Aug 9;11(8):e0160347. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0160347. eCollection 2016.


Focusing one's attention by external guiding stimuli towards a specific area of the visual field produces systematical neural signatures. One of the most robust is the change in topological distribution of oscillatory alpha band activity across parieto-occipital cortices. In particular, decreases in alpha activity over contralateral and/or increases over ipsilateral scalp sites, respect to the side of the visual field where attention was focused. This evidence comes mainly from experiments where an explicit cue informs subjects where to focus their attention, thus facilitating detection of an upcoming target stimulus. However, recent theoretical models of attention have highlighted a stochastic or non-deterministic component related to visuospatial attentional allocation. In an attempt to evidence this component, here we analyzed alpha activity in a signal detection paradigm in the lack of informative cues; in the absence of preceding information about the location (and time) of appearance of target stimuli. We believe that the unpredictability of this situation could be beneficial for unveiling this component. Interestingly, although total alpha power did not differ between Seen and Unseen conditions, we found a significant lateralization of alpha activity over parieto-occipital electrodes, which predicted behavioral performance. This effect had a smaller magnitude compared to paradigms in which attention is externally guided (cued). However we believe that further characterization of this spontaneous component of attention is of great importance in the study of visuospatial attentional dynamics. These results support the presence of a spontaneous component of visuospatial attentional allocation and they advance pre-stimulus alpha-band lateralization as one of its neural signatures.

MeSH terms

  • Alpha Rhythm / physiology*
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Young Adult

Grant support

The present work was financially supported by the National Corporation of Science and Technology of Chile (CONICYT; http://www.conicyt.cl/, grants FONDECYT 1150241 to VL and FONDECYT 1130758 to DC). The funding source had no further role in the study design; collection, analysis or interpretation of data; the writing of the report; or the decision to submit the paper for publication.