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Neural correlates of endogenous attention, exogenous attention and inhibition of return in touch



Selective attention helps process the myriad of information constantly touching our body. Both endogenous and exogenous mechanisms are relied upon to effectively process this information; however, it is unclear how they relate in the sense of touch. In three tasks we contrasted endogenous and exogenous event-related potential (ERP) and behavioural effects. Unilateral tactile cues were followed by a tactile target at the same or opposite hand. Clear behavioural effects showed facilitation of expected targets both when the cue predicted targets at the same (endogenous predictive task) and opposite hand (endogenous counter-predictive task), and these effects also correlated with ERP effects of endogenous attention. In an exogenous task, where the cue was non-informative, inhibition of return (IOR) was observed. The electrophysiological results demonstrated early effects of exogenous attention followed by later endogenous attention modulations. These effects were independent in both the endogenous predictive and exogenous tasks. However, voluntarily directing attention away from a cued body part influenced the early exogenous marker (N80). This suggests that the two mechanisms are interdependent, at least when the task requires more demanding shifts of attention. The early marker of exogenous tactile attention, the N80, was not directly related to IOR, which may suggest that exogenous attention and IOR are not necessarily two sides of the same coin. This study adds valuable new insight into how we process and select information presented to our body, showing both independent and interdependent effects of endogenous and exogenous attention in touch.