RTG 2175 Perception in Context and its neural Basis
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New TP Müller/Grothe "Guidance and capture of spatial attention by (irrelevant) visual and auditory events"

Hermann J. Müller (General and Experimental Psychology)
Benedikt Grothe (Neurobiology)

Salient events have the potential to attract spatial attention. Sometimes this is good, because the salient objects or what they signal are of behavioral relevance (e.g., the horn of an approaching ambulance); and sometimes this is bad, because they distract from the task at hand (e.g., a flashing advertisement on a webpage). Of note, while attention can be drawn by auditory as well as visual events, it remains unclear how the two might interactively affect attention allocations. We will examine three ways in which (irrelevant) visual and auditory spatial events may influence search for either auditory or visual targets via a common (spatial) priority map: When one event precedes the search-relevant event at either the same or a different location (exogenous spatial cueing), when the two appear at the same time and are therefore in direct competition (distraction/additional-singleton task), and when they acquire an arbitrary statistical (spatial) relationship (probability cueing/statistical learning). This project becomes possible through the combination of the two PIs’ respective expertise in visual attention (HJM) and spatial audio (BG). It will go beyond typical laboratory studies by transferring visual-search paradigms to a virtual-reality environment (head-mounted displays, binaural synthesis/3D audio), allowing for precise and flexible spatial placement of auditory as well as visual events, and by extracting markers of top-down control, spatial-attentional dynamics, and audio-visual integration from the human electroencephalogram. Furthermore, an established mathematical, priority-map based model of visual search will be adapted to derive a principled, quantitative account for behavioral and electrophysiological data across both modalities and all three types of tasks.