Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Alpha oscillations (8–14 Hz) are proposed to represent an active mechanism of functional inhibition of neuronal processing. Specifically, alpha oscillations are associated with pulses of inhibition repeating every ∼100 msec. Whether alpha phase, similar to alpha power, is under top–down control remains unclear. Moreover, the sources of such putative top–down phase control are unknown. We designed a cross-modal (visual/auditory) attention study in which we used magnetoencephalography to record the brain activity from 34 healthy participants. In each trial, a somatosensory cue indicated whether to attend to either the visual or auditory domain. The timing of the stimulus onset was predictable across trials. We found that, when visual information was attended, anticipatory alpha power was reduced in visual areas, whereas the phase adjusted just before the stimulus onset. Performance in each modality was predicted by the phase of the alpha oscillations previous to stimulus onset. Alpha oscillations in the left pFC appeared to lead the adjustment of alpha phase in visual areas. Finally, alpha phase modulated stimulus-induced gamma activity. Our results confirm that alpha phase can be top–down adjusted in anticipation of predictable stimuli and improve performance. Phase adjustment of the alpha rhythm might serve as a neurophysiological resource for optimizing visual processing when temporal predictions are possible and there is considerable competition between target and distracting stimuli.