Differential modulation of visual responses by distractor or target expectations.
Noonan MP., Von Lautz AH., Bauer Y., Summerfield C., Stokes MS.
Discriminating relevant from irrelevant information in a busy visual scene is supported by statistical regularities in the environment. However, it is unclear to what extent immediate stimulus repetitions and higher order expectations (whether a repetition is statistically probable or not) are supported by the same neural mechanisms. Moreover, it is also unclear whether target and distractor-related processing are mediated by the same or different underlying neural mechanisms. Using a speeded target discrimination task, the present study implicitly cued subjects to the location of the target or the distractor via manipulations in the underlying stimulus predictability. In separate studies, we collected EEG and MEG alongside behavioural data. Results showed that reaction times were reduced with increased expectations for both types of stimuli and that these effects were driven by expected repetitions in both cases. Despite the similar behavioural pattern across target and distractors, neurophysiological measures distinguished the two stimuli. Specifically, the amplitude of the P1 was modulated by stimulus relevance, being reduced for repeated distractors and increased for repeated targets. The P1 was not, however, modulated by higher order stimulus expectations. These expectations were instead reflected in modulations in ERP amplitude and theta power in frontocentral electrodes. Finally, we observed that a single repetition of a distractor was sufficient to reduce decodability of stimulus spatial location and was also accompanied by diminished representation of stimulus features. Our results highlight the unique mechanisms involved in distractor expectation and suppression and underline the importance of studying these processes distinctly from target-related attentional control.