New paper: N2pc versus TELAS (target-elicited lateralized alpha suppression)

Bacigalupo, F., & Luck, S. J. (in press). Lateralized suppression of alpha-band EEG activity as a mechanism of target processing. The Journal of Neurosciencehttps://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0183-18.2018

Since the classic study of Worden et al. (2000), we have known directing attention to the location of an upcoming target leads to a suppression of alpha-band EEG activity over the contralateral hemisphere. This is usually thought to reflect a preparatory process that increases cortical excitability in the hemisphere that will eventually process the upcoming target (or decreases excitability in the opposite hemisphere). This can be contrasted with the N2pc component, which reflects the focusing of attention onto a currently visible target (reviewed by Luck, 2012). But do these different neural signals actually reflect similar underlying attentional mechanisms? The answer in a new study by Felix Bacigalupo (now on the faculty at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile) appears to be both “yes” (the N2pc component and lateralized alpha suppression can both be triggered by a target, and they are both influenced by some of the same experimental manipulations) and “no” (they have different time courses and are influenced differently by other manipulations).

The study involved two experiments that we were designed to determine whether (a) lateralized alpha suppression would be triggered by a target in a visual search array, and (b) whether this effect could be experimentally dissociated from the N2pc component. The first experiment (shown in the figure below) used a fairly typical N2pc design. Subjects searched for an item of a specific color for a give(e.g., red) for a given block of trials. The target color appeared (unpredictably) at one of four locations. Previous research has shown that the N2pc component is primarily present for targets in the lower visual field, and we replicated this result (see ERP waveforms below). We also found that, although alpha-band activity was suppressed over both hemispheres following target presentation, this suppression was greater over the hemisphere contralateral to the target. Remarkably, like the N2pc component, the target-elicited lateralized alpha suppression (TELAS) occurred primarily for targets in the lower visual field. However, the time course of the TELAS was quite different from that of the N2pc. The scalp distribution of the TELAS also appeared to be more posterior than that of the N2pc component (although this was not formally compared).

The second experiment included a crowding manipulation, following up on a previous study in which the N2pc component was found to be largest when flanked by distractors that are at the edge of the crowding range, with a smaller N2pc when the distractors are so close that they prevent perception of the target shape (Bacigalupo & Luck, 2015). We replicated the previous result, but we saw a different pattern with the lateralized alpha suppression: The TELAS effect tended to increase progressively as the flanker distance decreased, with the largest magnitude for the most crowded displays. Thus, the TELAS effect appears to be related to difficulty or effort, whereas the N2pc component appears to be related to whether or not the target is successfully selected.

The bottom line is that visual search targets trigger both an N2pc component and a contralateral suppression of alpha-band EEG oscillations, especially when the targets are in the lower visual field, but the N2pc component and the TELAS effect can also be dissociated, reflecting different mechanisms of attention.

One interesting side finding: The contralateral positivity that often follows the N2pc component (similar to a Pd component) was clearly present for the upper-field targets. It was difficult to know the amplitude of this component for the lower-field targets given the overlapping N2pc and SPCN components, but the upper-field targets clearly elicited a strong contralateral positivity with little or no N2pc. This provides an interesting dissociation between the post-N2pc contralateral positivity and the N2pc component.

New paper: Using ERPs and alpha oscillations to decode the direction of motion

Bae, G. Y., & Luck, S. J. (2018). Decoding motion direction using the topography of sustained ERPs and alpha oscillations. NeuroImage, 18: 242-255. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.09.029

This is our second paper applying decoding methods to sustained ERPs and alpha-band EEG oscillations. The first one decoded which of 16 orientations was being maintained in working memory. In the new paper, we decoded which of 16 directions of motion was present in random dot kinematograms.

The paradigm is shown in the figure below. During a 1500-ms motion period, 25.6% or 51.2% of the dots moved coherently in one of 16 directions and the remainder moved randomly. After the motion ended, the subject adjusted a green line to match the direction of motion (which they could do quite precisely).

Motion Decoding.jpg

We asked whether we could decode (using machine learning) the precise direction of motion from the scalp distribution of the sustained voltage or alpha-band signal at each moment in time. Decoding the exact direction of motion is very challenging, and chance performance would be only 6.25% correct. During the motion period for the 51.2% coherence level, we were able to decode the direction of motion well above chance on the basis of the sustained ERP voltage (see the bottom right panel of the figure). However, as shown in the bottom left panel, we couldn’t decode the direction of motion on the basis of the alpha-band activity until the report period (during which time attention was presumably focused on the location of the green line).

When the coherence level was only 25.6% (and perception of coherent motion was much more difficult), we could not decode the actual direction of motion above chance. However, we were able to decode the direction of perceived motion (i.e., the direction that the subject reported at the end of the trial).

This study shows that (a) ERPs can be used to decode very subtle stimulus properties, and (b) sustained ERPs and alpha-band oscillations contain different information. In general, alpha-band activity appears to reflect the direction of spatial attention, whereas sustained ERPs contain information about both the direction of attention and the specific feature value being represented.

How to p-hack (and avoid p-hacking) in ERP research

Luck, S. J., & Gaspelin, N. (2017). How to Get Statistically Significant Effects in Any ERP Experiment (and Why You Shouldn’t)Psychophysiology, 54, 146-157.

How to get a significant effect.jpg

In this article, we show how ridiculously easy it is to find significant effects in ERP experiments by using the observed data to guide the selection of time windows and electrode sites. We also show that including multiple factors in your ANOVAs can dramatically increase the rate of false positives (Type I errors). We provide some suggestions for methods to avoid inflating the Type I error rate.

This paper was part of a special issue of Psychophysiology on Reproducibility edited by Emily Kappenman and Andreas Keil.

New Paper: Combined Electrophysiological and Behavioral Evidence for the Suppression of Salient Distractors

Gaspelin, N., & Luck, S. J. (in press). Combined Electrophysiological and Behavioral Evidence for the Suppression of Salient Distractors. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Gaspelin-Pd.jpg

Evidence that people can suppress salient-but-irrelevant color singletons has come from ERP studies and from behavioral studies.  The ERP studies find that, under appropriate conditions, singleton distractors will elicit a Pd component, a putative electrophysiological signature of suppression (discovered by Hickey, Di Lollo, and McDonald, 2009). The behavioral studies show that processing at the location of the singleton is suppressed below the level of nonsingleton distractors (reviewed by Gaspelin & Luck, 2018).  Are these electrophysiological and behavioral signatures of suppression actually related?

In the present study, Nick Gaspelin and I used an experimental paradigm in which it was possible to assess both the ERP and behavioral measures of suppression.  First, we were able to demonstrate that suppression of the salient singleton distractors was present according to both measures.  Second, we found that these two measures were correlated: participants who should a larger Pd also showed greater behavioral suppression.  

Correlations like these can be difficult to find (and believe).  First, both the ERP and behavioral measures can be noisy, which attenuates the strength of the correlation and reduces power.  Second, spurious correlations are easy to find when there are a lot of possible variables to correlate and relatively small Ns.  A typical ERP session is about 3 hours, so it's difficult to have the kinds of Ns that one might like in a correlational study.  To address these problems, we conducted two experiments.  The first was not well powered to detect a correlation (in part because we had no idea how large the correlation would be, making it difficult to assess the power). We did find a correlation, but we were skeptical because of the small N.  We then used the results of the first experiment to design a second experiment that was optimized and powered to detect the correlation, using an a priori analysis approach developed from the first experiment.  This gave us much more confidence that the correlation was real.

Gaspelin-Pd-Exp3.jpg

We also included a third experiment that was suggested by the alway-thoughtful John McDonald. As you can see from the image above, the Pd component was quite early in Experiments 1 and 2. Some authors have argued that an early contralateral positivity of this nature is not actually the suppression-related Pd component but instead reflects an automatic salience detection process.  To address this possibility, we simply made the salient singleton the target.  If the early positivity reflects an automatic salience detection process, then it should be present whether the singleton is a distractor or a target.  However, if it reflects a task-dependent suppression mechanism, then it should be eliminated when subjects are trying to focus attention onto the singleton. We found that most of this early positivity was eliminated when the singleton was the target. The very earliest part (before 150 ms) was still present when the singleton was the target, but most of the effect was present only when the singleton was a to-be-ignored distractor. In other words, the positivity was not driven by salience per se, but occurred primarily when the task required suppressing the singleton.  This demonstrates very clearly that the suppression-related Pd component can appear as early as 150 ms when elicited by a highly salient (but irrelevant) singleton.

Electrophysiological Evidence for Spatial Hyperfocusing in Schizophrenia

Kreither, J., Lopez-Calderon, J., Leonard, C. J., Robinson, B. M., Ruffle, A., Hahn, B., Gold, J. M., & Luck, S. J. (2017). Electrophysiological Evidence for Spatial Hyperfocusing in SchizophreniaThe Journal of Neuroscience, 37, 3813-3823.

Double Oddball P3 Bar Graph.jpg

This paper from last spring describes new evidence for our hyperfocusing theory of cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia.  Remarkably, we found that people with schizophrenia were actually better able to focus centrally and filter peripheral distractors than were control subjects. Under the right conditions, we even observed a (slightly) larger P3 wave in patients than in controls.
 

Decoding the contents of working memory from scalp EEG/ERP signals

Bae, G. Y., & Luck, S. J. (2018). Dissociable Decoding of Working Memory and Spatial Attention from EEG Oscillations and Sustained Potentials. The Journal of Neuroscience, 38, 409-422.

In this recent paper, we show that it is possible to decode the exact orientation of a stimulus as it is being held in working memory from sustained (CDA-like) ERPs.  A key finding is that we could decode both the orientation and the location of the attended stimulus with these sustained ERPs, whereas alpha-band EEG signals contained information only about the location.  

Our decoding accuracy is only about 50% above the chance level, but it's still pretty amazing that such precise information can be decoded from brain activity that we're recording from electrodes on the scalp!

Stay tuned for more cool EEG/ERP decoding results — we will be submitting a couple more studies in the near future.