Spatiotemporal oscillatory dynamics of visual selective attention during a flanker task

Timothy J. McDermott, Alex I. Wiesman, Amy L. Proskovec, Elizabeth Heinrichs-Graham, Tony W. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


The flanker task is a test of visual selective attention that has been widely used to probe error monitoring, response conflict, and related constructs. However, to date, few studies have focused on the selective attention component of this task and imaged the underlying oscillatory dynamics serving task performance. In this study, 21 healthy adults successfully completed an arrow-based version of the Eriksen flanker task during magnetoencephalography (MEG). All MEG data were pre-processed and transformed into the time-frequency domain. Significant oscillatory brain responses were imaged using a beamforming approach, and voxel time series were extracted from the peak responses to identify the temporal dynamics. Across both congruent and incongruent flanker conditions, our results indicated robust decreases in alpha (9–12 Hz) activity in medial and lateral occipital regions, bilateral parietal cortices, and cerebellar areas during task performance. In parallel, increases in theta (3–7 Hz) oscillatory activity were detected in dorsal and ventral frontal regions, and the anterior cingulate. As per conditional effects, stronger alpha responses (i.e., greater desynchronization) were observed in parietal, occipital, and cerebellar cortices during incongruent relative to congruent trials, whereas the opposite pattern emerged for theta responses (i.e., synchronization) in the anterior cingulate, left dorsolateral prefrontal, and ventral prefrontal cortices. Interestingly, the peak latency of theta responses in these latter brain regions was significantly correlated with reaction time, and may partially explain the amplitude difference observed between congruent and incongruent trials. Lastly, whole-brain exploratory analyses implicated the frontal eye fields, right temporoparietal junction, and premotor cortices. These findings suggest that regions of both the dorsal and ventral attention networks contribute to visual selective attention processes during incongruent trials, and that such differential processes are transient and fully completed shortly after the behavioral response in most trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-285
Number of pages9
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017


  • Alpha
  • Cortical
  • MEG
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Oscillation
  • Theta

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Spatiotemporal oscillatory dynamics of visual selective attention during a flanker task'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this