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Neural oscillations in the alpha band (7-13 Hz) are commonly associated with disengagement of visual attention. However, recent studies have also associated alpha with processes of attentional control and stability. We addressed this issue in previous experiments by delivering transcranial alternating current stimulation at 10 Hz over posterior cortex during visual tasks (alpha tACS). As this stimulation can induce reliable increases in EEG alpha power, and given that performance on each of our visual tasks was negatively associated with alpha power, we assumed that alpha tACS would reliably impair visual performance. However, alpha tACS was instead found to prevent both deteriorations and improvements in visual performance that otherwise occurred during sham & 50 Hz tACS. Alpha tACS therefore appeared to exert a stabilizing effect on visual attention. This hypothesis was tested in the current, pre-registered experiment by delivering alpha tACS during a task that required rapid switching of attention between motion, color, and auditory subtasks. We assumed that, if alpha tACS stabilizes visual attention, this stimulation should make it harder for people to switch between visual tasks, but should have little influence on transitions between auditory and visual subtasks. However, in contrast to this prediction, we observed no evidence of impairments in visuovisual vs. audiovisual switching during alpha vs. control tACS. Instead, we observed a trend-level reduction in visuoauditory switching accuracy during alpha tACS. Post-hoc analyses showed no effects of alpha tACS in response time variability, diffusion model parameters, or on performance of repeat trials. EEG analyses also showed no effects of alpha tACS on endogenous or stimulus-evoked alpha power. We discuss possible explanations for these results, as well as their broader implications for current efforts to study the roles of neural oscillations in cognition using tACS.

Original publication

DOI

10.3389/fnins.2018.00067

Type

Journal article

Journal

Front Neurosci

Publication Date

2018

Volume

12

Keywords

Alpha oscillations, multisensory perception, stabilization, task switching, transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS)