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Prestimulus Alpha Oscillations and the Temporal Sequencing of Audio-visual Events

Grabot, L., Kösem, A., Azizi, L., & Van Wassenhove, V. (2017). Prestimulus Alpha Oscillations and the Temporal Sequencing of Audio-visual Events. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 29(9), 1566-1582. doi:10.1162/jocn_a_01145.
Perceiving the temporal order of sensory events typically depends on participants' attentional state, thus likely on the endogenous fluctuations of brain activity. Using magnetoencephalography, we sought to determine whether spontaneous brain oscillations could disambiguate the perceived order of auditory and visual events presented in close temporal proximity, that is, at the individual's perceptual order threshold (Point of Subjective Simultaneity [PSS]). Two neural responses were found to index an individual's temporal order perception when contrasting brain activity as a function of perceived order (i.e., perceiving the sound first vs. perceiving the visual event first) given the same physical audiovisual sequence. First, average differences in prestimulus auditory alpha power indicated perceiving the correct ordering of audiovisual events irrespective of which sensory modality came first: a relatively low alpha power indicated perceiving auditory or visual first as a function of the actual sequence order. Additionally, the relative changes in the amplitude of the auditory (but not visual) evoked responses were correlated with participant's correct performance. Crucially, the sign of the magnitude difference in prestimulus alpha power and evoked responses between perceived audiovisual orders correlated with an individual's PSS. Taken together, our results suggest that spontaneous oscillatory activity cannot disambiguate subjective temporal order without prior knowledge of the individual's bias toward perceiving one or the other sensory modality first. Altogether, our results suggest that, under high perceptual uncertainty, the magnitude of prestimulus alpha (de)synchronization indicates the amount of compensation needed to overcome an individual's prior in the serial ordering and temporal sequencing of information
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