Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Processing of a given target is facilitated when it is defined within the same (e.g., visual–visual), compared to a different (e.g., tactile–visual), perceptual modality as on the previous trial [Spence, C., Nicholls, M., & Driver, J. The cost of expecting events in the wrong sensory modality. Perception & Psychophysics, 63, 330–336, 2001]. The present study was designed to identify electrocortical (EEG) correlates underlying this “modality shift effect.” Participants had to discriminate (via foot pedal responses) the modality of the target stimulus, visual versus tactile (Experiment 1), or respond based on the target-defining features (Experiment 2). Thus, modality changes were associated with response changes in Experiment 1, but dissociated in Experiment 2. Both experiments confirmed previous behavioral findings with slower discrimination times for modality change, relative to repetition, trials. Independently of the target-defining modality, spatial stimulus characteristics, and the motor response, this effect was mirrored by enhanced amplitudes of the anterior N1 component. These findings are explained in terms of a generalized “modality-weighting” account, which extends the “dimension-weighting” account proposed by Found and Müller [Searching for unknown feature targets on more than one dimension: Investigating a “dimension-weighting” account. Perception & Psychophysics, 58, 88–101, 1996] for the visual modality. On this account, the anterior N1 enhancement is assumed to reflect the detection of a modality change and initiation of the readjustment of attentional weight-setting from the old to the new target-defining modality in order to optimize target detection.