Theta Oscillations Index Frontal Decision-Making and Mediate Reciprocal Frontal-Parietal Interactions in Willed Attention

Abhijit Rajan, Scott N. Siegel, Yuelu Liu, Jesse Bengson, George R Mangun, Mingzhou Ding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Attention can be attracted reflexively by sensory signals, biased by learning or reward, or focused voluntarily based on momentary goals. When voluntary attention is focused by purely internal decision processes (will), rather than instructions via external cues, we call this "willed attention." In prior work, we reported ERP and fMRI correlates of willed spatial attention in trial-by-trial cuing tasks. Here we further investigated the oscillatory mechanisms of willed attention by contrasting the event-related EEG spectrogram between instructional and choice cues. Two experiments were conducted at 2 different sites using the same visuospatial attention paradigm. Consistent between the 2 experiments, we found increases in frontal theta power (starting at ~500 ms post cue) for willed attention relative to instructed attention. This frontal theta increase was accompanied by increased frontal-parietal theta-band coherence and bidirectional Granger causality. Additionally, the onset of attention-related posterior alpha power lateralization was delayed in willed attention relative to instructed attention, and the amount of delay was related to the timing of frontal theta increase. These results, replicated across 2 experiments, suggest that theta oscillations are the neuronal signals indexing decision-making in the frontal cortex, and mediating reciprocal communications between the frontal executive and parietal attentional control regions during willed attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2832-2843
Number of pages12
JournalCerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991)
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 5 2019


  • alpha lateralization
  • coherence
  • EEG
  • GC
  • visuospatial attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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