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Hierarchies of Attention and Experimental Designs: Effects of Spatial and Intermodal Attention Revisited.
When attention is directed to stimuli in a given modality and location, information processing in other irrelevant modalities at this location is affected too. This spread of attention to irrelevant stimuli is often interpreted as superiority of location selection over modality selection. However, this conclusion is based on experimental paradigms in which spatial attention was transient whereas intermodal attention was sustained. Furthermore, whether modality selection affects processing in the task-relevant modality at irrelevant locations remains an open question. Here, we addressed effects of simultaneous spatial and intermodal attention in an EEG study using a balanced design where spatial attention was transient and intermodal attention sustained or vice versa. Effects of spatial attention were not affected by which modality was attended and effects of intermodal attention were not affected by whether the stimuli were at the attended location or not. This suggests not only spread of spatial attention to task-irrelevant modalities but also spread of intermodal attention to task-irrelevant locations. Whether spatial attention was transient or sustained did not alter the effect of spatial attention on visual N1 and Nd1 responses. Prestimulus preparatory occipital alpha band responses were affected by both transient and sustained spatial cueing, whereas late poststimulus responses were more strongly affected by sustained than by transient spatial attention. Sustained but not transient intermodal attention affected late responses (>200 msec) to visual stimuli. Together, the results undermine the universal superiority of spatial attention and suggest that the mode of attention manipulation is an important factor determining attention effects.