Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Selective attention is reflected neurally in changes in the power of posterior neural oscillations in the alpha (8–12 Hz) and gamma (40–100 Hz) bands. Although a neural mechanism that allows relevant information to be selectively processed has its advantages, it may lead to lucrative or dangerous information going unnoticed. Neural systems are also in place for processing rewarding and punishing information. Here, we examine the interaction between selective attention (left vs. right) and stimulus's learned value associations (neutral, punished, or rewarded) and how they compete for control of posterior neural oscillations. We found that both attention and stimulus–value associations influenced neural oscillations. Whereas selective attention had comparable effects on alpha and gamma oscillations, value associations had dissociable effects on these neural markers of attention. Salient targets (associated with positive and negative outcomes) hijacked changes in alpha power—increasing hemispheric alpha lateralization when salient targets were attended, decreasing it when they were being ignored. In contrast, hemispheric gamma-band lateralization was specifically abolished by negative distractors. Source analysis indicated occipital generators of both attentional and value effects. Thus, posterior cortical oscillations support both the ability to selectively attend while at the same time retaining the ability to remain sensitive to valuable features in the environment. Moreover, the versatility of our attentional system to respond separately to salient from merely positively valued stimuli appears to be carried out by separate neural processes reflected in different frequency bands.