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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Top-down and bottom-up modulation in processing bimodal face/voice stimuli

Marianne Latinus12*, Rufin VanRullen1 and Margot J Taylor3

Author Affiliations

1 Université de Toulouse, UPS, CNRS, Centre de recherche Cerveau et Cognition, Toulouse, France

2 Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging (CCNi) and Department of Psychology, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G128BQ, UK

3 Diagnostic Imaging and Research Institute, Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, M5G1X8, Canada

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BMC Neuroscience 2010, 11:36  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-11-36

Published: 11 March 2010



Processing of multimodal information is a critical capacity of the human brain, with classic studies showing bimodal stimulation either facilitating or interfering in perceptual processing. Comparing activity to congruent and incongruent bimodal stimuli can reveal sensory dominance in particular cognitive tasks.


We investigated audiovisual interactions driven by stimulus properties (bottom-up influences) or by task (top-down influences) on congruent and incongruent simultaneously presented faces and voices while ERPs were recorded. Subjects performed gender categorisation, directing attention either to faces or to voices and also judged whether the face/voice stimuli were congruent in terms of gender. Behaviourally, the unattended modality affected processing in the attended modality: the disruption was greater for attended voices. ERPs revealed top-down modulations of early brain processing (30-100 ms) over unisensory cortices. No effects were found on N170 or VPP, but from 180-230 ms larger right frontal activity was seen for incongruent than congruent stimuli.


Our data demonstrates that in a gender categorisation task the processing of faces dominate over the processing of voices. Brain activity showed different modulation by top-down and bottom-up information. Top-down influences modulated early brain activity whereas bottom-up interactions occurred relatively late.