Differential hemispheric modulation of preparatory attention

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Abstract

Preparatory attention (PA) is the ability to allocate attention to a stimulus prior to its occurrence and is a crucial component of attentional control. We investigated the role of brain hemispheres in PA using an experimental test in which normal participants responded to a target that could appear in the right or the left visual fields, thus projecting to the left or the right hemispheres, while ignoring a central distractor that could appear in the preparatory phase preceding the target. This experimental test measures the ability of participants to modulate PA directed to a target location when the probability of a distractor occurrence varies across three blocks of trials (0%, 33%, 67%). The competition between distractors and target for PA should produce slower response times when the probability of distractors is high. Three experiments were conducted varying the temporal predictability of the target occurrence within a trial (high predictability in Experiments 1 and 3, and low predictability in Experiment 2), and the task used (location in Experiments 1 and 2, and detection in Experiment 3). We found that the modulation of PA by the expected probability of events was different in each visual field/hemisphere. Whereas the left hemisphere PA was influenced by the mere probability of events in each block of trials, the right hemisphere PA was mainly influenced by events with high temporal predictability. These results suggest that each hemisphere uses a different strategy to modulate PA when directed to a target location at the perceptual level of visual processing.

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