Neural Mechanisms of Attentional Control for Objects: Decoding EEG Alpha When Anticipating Faces, Scenes, and Tools

Sean Noah, Travis Powell, Natalia Khodayari, Diana Olivan, Mingzhou Ding, George R. Mangun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Attentional selection mechanisms in visual cortex involve changes in oscillatory activity in the EEG alpha band (8–12 Hz), with decreased alpha indicating focal cortical enhancement and increased alpha indicating suppression. This has been observed for spatial selective attention and attention to stimulus features such as color versus motion. We investigated whether attention to objects involves similar alpha-mediated changes in focal cortical excitability. In experiment 1, 20 volunteers (8 males; 12 females) were cued (80% predictive) on a trial-by-trial basis to different objects (faces, scenes, or tools). Support vector machine decoding of alpha power patterns revealed that late (.500 ms latency) in the cue-to-target foreperiod, only EEG alpha differed with the to-be-attended object category. In experiment 2, to eliminate the possibility that decoding of the physical features of cues led to our results, 25 participants (9 males; 16 females) performed a similar task where cues were nonpredictive of the object category. Alpha decoding was now only significant in the early (,200 ms) foreperiod. In experiment 3, to eliminate the possibility that task set differences between the different object categories led to our experiment 1 results, 12 participants (5 males; 7 females) performed a predictive cuing task where the discrimination task for different objects was identical across object categories. The results replicated experiment 1. Together, these findings support the hypothesis that the neural mechanisms of visual selective attention involve focal cortical changes in alpha power not only for simple spatial and feature attention, but also for high-level object attention in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4913-4924
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number25
StatePublished - Jun 17 2020


  • Alpha
  • Attention
  • Decoding
  • EEG
  • Objects
  • Vision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Neural Mechanisms of Attentional Control for Objects: Decoding EEG Alpha When Anticipating Faces, Scenes, and Tools'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this