AC post­doc Malte Wöst­mann scores DFG grant to study the tem­po­ral dynam­ics of the audi­to­ry atten­tion­al fil­ter

In this three-year project, we will use the audi­to­ry modal­i­ty as a test case to inves­ti­gate how the sup­pres­sion of dis­tract­ing infor­ma­tion (i.e., “fil­ter­ing”) is neu­ral­ly imple­ment­ed. While it is known that the atten­tion­al sam­pling of tar­gets (a) is rhyth­mic, (b) can be entrained, and © is mod­u­lat­ed by top-down pre­dic­tions, the exis­tence and neur­al imple­men­ta­tion of these mech­a­nisms for the sup­pres­sion of dis­trac­tors is at present unclear. To test this, we will use adap­ta­tions of estab­lished behav­iour­al par­a­digms of dis­trac­tor sup­pres­sion and record­ings of human elec­tro­phys­i­o­log­i­cal sig­nals in the Magen­to-/ Elec­troen­cephalo­gram (M/EEG).

Abstract of research project:

Back­ground: Goal-direct­ed behav­iour in tem­po­ral­ly dynam­ic envi­ron­ments requires to focus on rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion and to not get dis­tract­ed by irrel­e­vant infor­ma­tion. To achieve this, two cog­ni­tive process­es are nec­es­sary: On the one hand, atten­tion­al sam­pling of tar­get stim­uli has been focus of exten­sive research. On the oth­er hand, it is less well known how the human neur­al sys­tem exploits tem­po­ral infor­ma­tion in the stim­u­lus to fil­ter out dis­trac­tion. In the present project, we use the audi­to­ry modal­i­ty as a test case to study the tem­po­ral dynam­ics of atten­tion­al fil­ter­ing and its neur­al imple­men­ta­tion.

Approach and gen­er­al hypoth­e­sis: In three vari­ants of the “Irrel­e­vant-Sound Task” we will manip­u­late tem­po­ral aspects of audi­to­ry dis­trac­tors. Behav­iour­al recall of tar­get stim­uli despite dis­trac­tion and respons­es in the elec­troen­cephalo­gram (EEG) will reflect the integri­ty and neur­al imple­men­ta­tion of the atten­tion­al fil­ter. In line with pre­lim­i­nary research, our gen­er­al hypoth­e­sis is that atten­tion­al fil­ter­ing bases on sim­i­lar but sign-reversed mech­a­nisms as atten­tion­al sam­pling: For instance, while atten­tion to rhyth­mic stim­uli increas­es neur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ty at time points of expect­ed tar­get occur­rence, fil­ter­ing of dis­trac­tors should instead decrease neur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ty at the time of expect­ed dis­trac­tion.

Work pro­gramme: In each one of three Work Pack­ages (WPs), we will take as a mod­el an estab­lished neur­al mech­a­nism of atten­tion­al sam­pling and test the exis­tence and neur­al imple­men­ta­tion of a sim­i­lar mech­a­nism for atten­tion­al fil­ter­ing. This way, we will inves­ti­gate whether atten­tion­al fil­ter­ing fol­lows an intrin­sic rhythm (WP1), whether rhyth­mic dis­trac­tors can entrain atten­tion­al fil­ter­ing (WP2), and whether fore­knowl­edge about the time of dis­trac­tion induces top-down tun­ing of the atten­tion­al fil­ter in frontal cor­tex regions (WP3).

Objec­tives and rel­e­vance: The pri­ma­ry objec­tive of this research is to con­tribute to the foun­da­tion­al sci­ence on human selec­tive atten­tion, which requires a com­pre­hen­sive under­stand­ing of how the neur­al sys­tem achieves the task of fil­ter­ing out dis­trac­tion. Fur­ther­more, hear­ing dif­fi­cul­ties often base on dis­trac­tion by salient but irrel­e­vant sound. Results of this research will trans­late to the devel­op­ment of hear­ing aids that take into account neu­ro-cog­ni­tive mech­a­nisms to fil­ter out dis­trac­tion more effi­cient­ly.