Overlapping Brain Network and Alpha Power Changes Suggest Visuospatial Attention Effects on Driving Performance

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Abstract

When humans perform prolonged, continuous tasks, their performance fluctuates. The etiology of these fluctuations is multifactorial, but they are influenced by changes in attention reflected in underlying neural dynamics. Previous work with electroencephalography has suggested that prestimulus alpha power is a neural signature of attention allocation with higher power portending relatively poorer performance. The functional mechanisms subserving these changes in alpha power and behavior are postulated to be the result of networked neural activity that permits flexibility in the allocation of attention. Here, we directly examine the similarity between prestimulus alpha connectivity and power in relation to performance fluctuations in a continuous driving task. Participants were asked to maintain their vehicle in the center of a simulated highway, and we evaluated their performance by randomly perturbing the vehicle and assessing their steering correction. We then used the 3 seconds of neural activity before the unexpected event to derive alpha functional connectivity in the first analysis and alpha power in the second analysis, and we employed linear regression to separately investigate their relationship to 3 metrics of driving performance (lane deviation, reaction time (RT), and heading error). We find that the locations involved in our network analysis also show the strongest modulation of alpha activity. Interestingly, the network pattern suggests a posterior to anterior directionality, consistent with bottom-up theories of attention, and these results may reflect a gain control model of attention in which ongoing attention is modulated through coordinated, network activity.

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