Involuntary shifts of spatial attention contribute to distraction—Evidence from oscillatory alpha power and reaction time data.

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    • Abstract:
      Imagine you are focusing on the traffic on a busy street to ride your bike safely when suddenly you hear the siren of an ambulance. This unexpected sound involuntarily captures your attention and interferes with ongoing performance. We tested whether this type of distraction involves a spatial shift of attention. We measured behavioral data and magnetoencephalographic alpha power during a cross‐modal paradigm that combined an exogenous cueing task and a distraction task. In each trial, a task‐irrelevant sound preceded a visual target (left or right). The sound was usually the same animal sound (i.e., standard sound). Rarely, it was replaced by an unexpected environmental sound (i.e., deviant sound). Fifty percent of the deviants occurred on the same side as the target, and 50% occurred on the opposite side. Participants responded to the location of the target. As expected, responses were slower to targets that followed a deviant compared to a standard. Crucially, this distraction effect was mitigated by the spatial relationship between the targets and the deviants: responses were faster when targets followed deviants on the same versus different side, indexing a spatial shift of attention. This was further corroborated by a posterior alpha power modulation that was higher in the hemisphere ipsilateral (vs. contralateral) to the location of the attention‐capturing deviant. We suggest that this alpha power lateralization reflects a spatial attention bias. Overall, our data support the contention that spatial shifts of attention contribute to deviant distraction. Cognitive effects and the neural underpinnings accounting for deviant distraction have been extensively studied via event‐related potentials and behavioral measures. By focusing on neural oscillatory activity, our research advances our understanding on those aspects. It emphasizes the role of alpha power in the context of deviant distraction. Furthermore, it supports the hypothesis that spatial shifts of attention contribute to deviant distraction. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
    • Abstract:
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