The role of distinct cortical regions in guiding social orienting needs further investigation. Our aim was to explore the contribution of the frontal eye field (FEF) in early orienting of attention towards stimuli with social value. We used a TMS-EEG approach to investigate event related potentials (ERPs; no-TMS block) and TMS evoked potentials (TEPs; TMS block) during the cueing phase of a modified version of the dot-probe task, comparing competing (face vs. house) and not competing (house vs. house) conditions. Our results revealed an increased amplitude of ERP components in the competing condition, showing greater posterior N170 and fronto-central vertex positive potential (VPP) and an enhanced frontal negative component at 250-270 ms from cue onset. TMS pulses over the FEF induced similar N170 and VPP amplified components. In addition, in the ERPs, a reduced positivity at 400 ms was shown when the face appeared on the left side vs. the right side of space. In contrast, in the TMS blocks, we found lateralized effects on N170 depending on the side of face presentation. The enhanced cortical excitability induced by TMS over the right FEF significantly correlated with the performance on the behavioral task, suggesting a link between the FEF activity during the cueing phase of the dot-probe task and the subsequent behavioral response times to the targets.
Keywords: EEG; TMS; attention; competition; face; frontal eye field; social.