The spatial distribution of attentional selectivity in touch: evidence from somatosensory ERP components

Martin Eimer, Bettina Forster
Clinical Neurophysiology: Official Journal of the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology 2003, 114 (7): 1298-306

OBJECTIVE: Somatosensory event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were measured to investigate the spatial distribution of selective attention in touch, and whether the focus of tactile attention can be split between non-contiguous areas of the body surface.

METHODS: On each trial, vibratory tactile stimuli were delivered to one of 4 possible locations of the right hand. Participants had to attend to either one or two locations in order to detect infrequently presented target stimuli there. ERPs were recorded to tactile non-targets at attended and unattended locations.

RESULTS: Attention directed to one finger versus another was reflected by amplitude modulations of the sensory-specific P100 component and a subsequent attentional negativity (Nd). These effects were smaller for within-finger as compared to between-finger selection. When attention was directed simultaneously to non-adjacent fingers, ERPs in response to stimuli delivered to spatially and anatomically intervening fingers showed no attentional modulations whatsoever.

CONCLUSIONS: Allocating tactile-spatial attention to one finger versus another affects early modality-specific somatosensory processing stages, and these effects of within-hand attentional selectivity decrease gradually with increasing distance from the current attentional focus. Unlike vision, the focus of tactile attention can be split, and directed simultaneously to non-adjacent areas, thus excluding spatially and anatomically intermediate regions from attentional processing.

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