Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Neuroimaging work on multisensory conflict suggests that the relevant modality receives enhanced processing in the face of incongruency. However, the degree of stimulus processing in the irrelevant modality and the temporal cascade of the attentional modulations in either the relevant or irrelevant modalities are unknown. Here, we employed an audiovisual conflict paradigm with a sensory probe in the task-irrelevant modality (vision) to gauge the attentional allocation to that modality. ERPs were recorded as participants attended to and discriminated spoken auditory letters while ignoring simultaneous bilateral visual letter stimuli that were either fully congruent, fully incongruent, or partially incongruent (one side incongruent, one congruent) with the auditory stimulation. Half of the audiovisual letter stimuli were followed 500–700 msec later by a bilateral visual probe stimulus. As expected, ERPs to the audiovisual stimuli showed an incongruency ERP effect (fully incongruent versus fully congruent) of an enhanced, centrally distributed, negative-polarity wave starting ∼250 msec. More critically here, the sensory ERP components to the visual probes were larger when they followed fully incongruent versus fully congruent multisensory stimuli, with these enhancements greatest on fully incongruent trials with the slowest RTs. In addition, on the slowest-response partially incongruent trials, the P2 sensory component to the visual probes was larger contralateral to the preceding incongruent visual stimulus. These data suggest that, in response to conflicting multisensory stimulus input, the initial cognitive effect is a capture of attention by the incongruent irrelevant-modality input, pulling neural processing resources toward that modality, resulting in rapid enhancement, rather than rapid suppression, of that input.