Mechanisms of Selective Attention during Competitive Discrimination of Visual and Auditory Verbal Information: Positron Emission Tomography and Cortical Evoked Potential Studies

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The mechanisms of selective verbal attention were studied under conditions of simultaneous delivery of speech signals via the visual and auditory channels. The investigation was based on the comparison and synthesis of data obtained by two methods: positron emission tomography (PET) and brain evoked potentials (EPs). A new approach was developed: complementary tasks were constructed in such a way that, despite principal methodological problems, the same phenomenon could be investigated in one paradigm in EP and PET studies. The results obtained by the two methods are in rather good agreement with respect to topography: the secondary and tertiary areas, as well as the associative brain areas, are involved in attention concentration, that is, selection of verbal information occurs at the level of cognitive processes. The combination of two complementary methods, PET and EP, allowed the processes of processing of sensory information and brain mechanisms of selective attention to be investigated much more completely. The PET studies contributed to further understanding of brain mechanisms evidencing where processing occurs and the EP method provided insight into the mechanism of how this information is processed inside the corresponding cortical areas. The finding that the activation of primary areas of the visual cortex is accompanied by the inhibition of visual information deserves attention. This conclusion can be considered highly significant because of the concordance of the two independent methods. How to interpret it is not yet clear. It is possible that, in the case of primary importance of verbal information and priority of the visual channel for the repression from consciousness of artificially irrelevant information, a safety mechanism is activated: the amplified signal enters the brain cortex, where it is retained in the short-term “iconic” memory. This enables a reaction to this stimulus (if necessary), in the presence of any additional sign involving selective attention.

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