Open Access Research article

Cross-modal deactivations during modality-specific selective attention

Jennifer L Mozolic*, David Joyner, Christina E Hugenschmidt, Ann M Peiffer, Robert A Kraft, Joseph A Maldjian and Paul J Laurienti

Author Affiliations

Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157, USA

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BMC Neurology 2008, 8:35  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-8-35

Published: 25 September 2008



Processing stimuli in one sensory modality is known to result in suppression of other sensory-specific cortices. Additionally, behavioral experiments suggest that the primary consequence of paying attention to a specific sensory modality is poorer task performance in the unattended sensory modality. This study was designed to determine how focusing attention on the auditory or visual modality impacts neural activity in cortical regions responsible for processing stimuli in the unattended modality.


Functional MRI data were collected in 15 participants who completed a cued detection paradigm. This task allowed us to assess the effects of modality-specific attention both during the presence and the absence of targets in the attended modality.


The results of this experiment demonstrate that attention to a single sensory modality can result in decreased activity in cortical regions that process information from an unattended sensory modality (cross-modal deactivations). The effects of attention are likely additive with stimulus-driven effects with the largest deactivations being observed during modality-specific selective attention, in the presence of a stimulus in that modality.


Modality-specific selective attention results in behavioral decrements in unattended sensory modalities. The imaging results presented here provide a neural signature (cross-modal deactivation) for modality-specific selective attention.