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Peylo, Charline; Hilla, Yannik; Sauseng, Paul (21. June 2021): Cause or consequence? Alpha oscillations in visuospatial attention. In: Trends in Neurosciences
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Abstract

Modulations of electroencephalogram alpha amplitude have long been associated with visuospatial attention, but whether alpha power changes are causally involved in attention shifts or reflect a consequence of them is a matter of ongoing debate. We evaluate recent findings providing evidence for both of these two perspectives. We discuss the extent to which the temporal dynamics of alpha activity and extrinsic modulation of alpha amplitude can be used as a basis for arguing for or against alpha activity as a causal substrate of visuospatial attention. We also discuss whether alpha activity implements attention by gain control in the early visual cortex. A potential mechanism by which alpha activity in higher visual areas implements attentional gating is introduced. A well-established finding in the literature of human studies is that alpha activity (rhythmical brain activity around 10 Hz) shows retinotopic amplitude modulation during shifts in visual attention. Thus, it has long been argued that alpha amplitude modulation might play a crucial role in attention-driven alterations in visual information processing. Recently, there has been a revival of the topic, driven in part by new studies directly investigating the possible causal relationship between alpha activity and responses to visual input, both neuronally and perceptually. Here, we discuss evidence for and against a causal role of alpha activity in visual attentional processing. We conclude with hypotheses regarding the mechanisms by which top-down-modulated alpha activity in the parietal cortex might select visual information for attentive processing.