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Psychology Special Seminar (Hosted by the Woodman Lab)

Friday, January 13, 2017,
  • Location: Wilson Hall
  • Room: 316

Sirawaj Itthipuripat

Department of Psychology

University of California, San Diego


Wilson Hall Room 316

Training qualitatively shifts the neural mechanisms that support attentional selection

Attention supports the selection of relevant sensory information from competing irrelevant sensory information. This selective processing is thought to be supported via the attentional gain amplification of sensory responses evoked by attended compared to unattended stimuli. However, recent studies in highly trained subjects suggest that attentional gain plays a relatively modest role and that other types of neural modulations – such as a reduction in neural noise – better explain attention-related changes in behavior. We hypothesized that the amount of training may alter neural mechanisms that support attentional selection in visual cortex. To test this hypothesis, we investigated the influence of training on attentional modulations of stimulus-evoked visual responses by recording electroencephalography (EEG) from humans performing a selective visuospatial attention task over the course of one month. Early in training, visuospatial attention induced a robust attentional gain amplification of sensory-evoked responses in contralateral visual cortex that emerged within ~100ms after stimulus onset, and a quantitative model based on signal detection theory (SDT) successfully linked this attentional gain amplification to attention-related improvements in behavior. However, after training, this attentional gain amplification of visual responses was almost completely eliminated and modeling suggested that noise reduction was required to link the amplitude of visual responses with attentional modulations of behavior. These findings suggest that the neural mechanisms supporting selective attention can change as a function of training and expertise, and help to bridge different results from studies carried out in different model systems that require substantially different amount of training.