Selective Attention Gates the Interactive Crossmodal Coupling between Perceptual Systems

Curr Biol. 2018 Mar 5;28(5):746-752.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.01.021. Epub 2018 Feb 15.


Sensory cortical systems often activate in parallel, even when stimulation is experienced through a single sensory modality [1-3]. Co-activations may reflect the interactive coupling between information-linked cortical systems or merely parallel but independent sensory processing. We report causal evidence consistent with the hypothesis that human somatosensory cortex (S1), which co-activates with auditory cortex during the processing of vibrations and textures [4-9], interactively couples to cortical systems that support auditory perception. In a series of behavioral experiments, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to probe interactions between the somatosensory and auditory perceptual systems as we manipulated attention state. Acute TMS over S1 impairs auditory frequency perception when subjects simultaneously attend to auditory and tactile frequency, but not when attention is directed to audition alone. Auditory frequency perception is unaffected by TMS over visual cortex, thus confirming the privileged interactions between the somatosensory and auditory systems in temporal frequency processing [10-13]. Our results provide a key demonstration that selective attention can modulate the functional properties of cortical systems thought to support specific sensory modalities. The gating of crossmodal coupling by selective attention may critically support multisensory interactions and feature-specific perception.

Keywords: TMS; audio-tactile; audition; multisensory; perception; touch.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Young Adult