Distributed Attention Is Implemented through Theta-Rhythmic Gamma Modulation

Ayelet Nina Landau*, Helene Marianne Schreyer, Stan Van Pelt, Pascal Fries

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

177 Scopus citations


When subjects monitor a single location, visual target detection depends on the pre-target phase of an ∼8 Hz brain rhythm [1, 2]. When multiple locations are monitored, performance decrements suggest a division of the 8 Hz rhythm over the number of locations [3], indicating that different locations are sequentially sampled. Indeed, when subjects monitor two locations, performance benefits alternate at a 4 Hz rhythm [4]. These performance alternations were revealed after a reset of attention to one location. Although resets are common and important events for attention [5], it is unknown whether, in the absence of resets, ongoing attention samples stimuli in alternation. Here, we examined whether spatially specific attentional sampling can be revealed by ongoing pre-target brain rhythms. Visually induced gamma-band activity plays a role in spatial attention. Therefore, we hypothesized that performance on two simultaneously monitored stimuli can be predicted by a 4 Hz modulation of gamma-band activity. Brain rhythms were assessed with magnetoencephalography (MEG) while subjects monitored bilateral grating stimuli for a unilateral target event. The corresponding contralateral gamma-band responses were subtracted from each other to isolate spatially selective, target-related fluctuations. The resulting lateralized gamma-band activity (LGA) showed opposite pre-target 4 Hz phases for detected versus missed targets. The 4 Hz phase of pre-target LGA accounted for a 14.5% modulation in performance. These findings suggest that spatial attention is a theta-rhythmic sampling process that is continuously ongoing, with each sampling cycle being implemented through gamma-band synchrony.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2332-2337
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number17
StatePublished - 31 Aug 2015

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© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


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