Brain Dynamics of Distractibility: Interaction Between Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms of Auditory Attention
2015
Brain Topography
28:423-436
Authors: 
Bidet-Caulet A
Bottemanne L
Fonteneau C
Giard MH
Bertrand O

Attention improves the processing of specific information while other stimuli are disregarded. A good balance between bottom-up (attentional capture by unexpected salient stimuli) and top-down (selection of relevant information) mechanisms is crucial to be both task-efficient and aware of our environment. Only few studies have explored how an isolated unexpected task-irrelevant stimulus outside the attention focus can disturb the top-down attention mechanisms necessary to the good performance of the ongoing task, and how these top-down mechanisms can modulate the bottom-up mechanisms of attentional capture triggered by an unexpected event. We recorded scalp electroencephalography in 18 young adults performing a new paradigm measuring distractibility and assessing both bottom-up and top-down attention mechanisms, at the same time. Increasing task load in top-down attention was found to reduce early processing of the distracting sound, but not bottom-up attentional capture mechanisms nor the behavioral distraction cost in reaction time. Moreover, the impact of bottom-up attentional capture by distracting sounds on target processing was revealed as a delayed latency of the N100 sensory response to target sounds mirroring increased reaction times. These results provide crucial information into how bottom-up and top-down mechanisms dynamically interact and compete in the human brain, i.e. on the precarious balance between voluntary attention and distraction.