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Attentional capacity for processing concurrent stimuli is larger across sensory modalities than within a modality


  • This study was supported by NIH grants R01-MH64015, NSF grant 0524031, and R01-NS051048 to M.G.W. We thank Laura Busse and Tineke Grent-'t Jong for their assistance during data collection and Hein van Schie and Sander Los for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. In addition, we also thank Dr. John J. McDonald and one anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

  • T.J.D. is now at the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, NIMH, Bethesda, MD, USA and the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.

Address reprint requests to: Durk Talsma, Cognitive Psychology Department, Vrije Universiteit, Van den Boechorststraat 1, 1081BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands. E-mail:


One finding in attention research is that visual and auditory attention mechanisms are linked together. Such a link would predict a central, amodal capacity limit in processing visual and auditory stimuli. Here we show that this is not the case. Letter streams were accompanied by asynchronously presented streams of auditory, visual, and audiovisual objects. Either the letter streams or the visual, auditory, or audiovisual parts of the object streams were attended. Attending to various aspects of the objects resulted in modulations of the letter-stream-elicited steady-state evoked potentials (SSVEPs). SSVEPs were larger when auditory objects were attended than when either visual objects alone or when auditory and visual object stimuli were attended together. SSVEP amplitudes were the same in the latter conditions, indicating that attentional capacity between modalities is larger than attentional capacity within one and the same modality.