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Keywords:

  • attention;
  • fMRI;
  • humans;
  • locus of selection

Abstract

According to perceptual load theory, processing of task-irrelevant stimuli is limited by the perceptual load of a parallel attended task if both the task and the irrelevant stimuli are presented to the same sensory modality. However, it remains a matter of debate whether the same principles apply to cross-sensory perceptual load and, more generally, what form cross-sensory attentional modulation in early perceptual areas takes in humans. Here we addressed these questions using functional magnetic resonance imaging. Participants undertook an auditory one-back working memory task of low or high perceptual load, while concurrently viewing task-irrelevant images at one of three object visibility levels. The processing of the visual and auditory stimuli was measured in the lateral occipital cortex (LOC) and auditory cortex (AC), respectively. Cross-sensory interference with sensory processing was observed in both the LOC and AC, in accordance with previous results of unisensory perceptual load studies. The present neuroimaging results therefore warrant the extension of perceptual load theory from a unisensory to a cross-sensory context: a validation of this cross-sensory interference effect through behavioural measures would consolidate the findings.