ABSTRACT: Mechanisms of attention are required to prioritise goal-relevant sensory events under conditions of stimulus competition. According to the perceptual load model of attention, the extent to which task-irrelevant inputs are processed is determined by the relative demands of discriminating the target: the more perceptually demanding the target task, the less unattended stimuli will be processed. Although much evidence supports the perceptual load model for competing stimuli within a single sensory modality, the effects of perceptual load in one modality on distractor processing in another is less clear. Here we used steady-state evoked potentials (SSEPs) to measure neural responses to irrelevant visual checkerboard stimuli while participants performed either a visual or auditory task that varied in perceptual load. Consistent with perceptual load theory, increasing visual task load suppressed SSEPs to the ignored visual checkerboards. In contrast, increasing auditory task load enhanced SSEPs to the ignored visual checkerboards. This enhanced neural response to irrelevant visual stimuli under auditory load suggests that exhausting capacity within one modality selectively compromises inhibitory processes required for filtering stimuli in another.
NeuroImage 03/2012; 61(4):1050-8. · 5.89 Impact Factor