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Keywords:

  • Event-related brain potentials;
  • Intermodal selective attention;
  • Brainstem evoked potentials;
  • Startle-blink reflex;
  • Electroretinogram

ABSTRACT

Short latency evoked potentials were recorded during a cross-modal selective attention task to evaluate recent proposals that sensory transmission in the peripheral auditory and visual pathways can be modified selectively by centrifugal mechanisms in humans. Twenty young adult subjects attended in turn to either left-ear tones or right-field flashes presented in a randomized sequence, in order to detect infrequent, lower-intensity targets. Attention-related enhancement of longer-latency components, including the visual P105 and the auditory N1/Nd waves and T-complex, showed that subjects were able to adopt a selective sensory set toward either modality. Neither the auditory evoked brainstem potentials nor the early visual components (electroretinogram, occipito-temporal N40, P50, N70 waves) were significantly affected by attention. Measures of retinal B-waves were significantly reduced in amplitude when attention was directed to the flashes, but concurrent recordings of eyelid electromyographic activity and the electro-oculogram indicated that this effect may have resulted from contamination of the retinal recordings by blink microreflex activity. A trend toward greater positivity in the 15–50 ms latency range for auditory evoked potentials to attended tones was observed. These results provide further evidence that the earliest levels of sensory transmission are unaffected by cross-modal selective attention, but that longer latency exogenous and endogenous potentials are enhanced to stimuli in the attended modality.