Top-down task-specific determinants of multisensory motor reaction time enhancements and sensory switch costs.
Barutchu A., Spence C.
This study was designed to investigate the complex interplay between multisensory processing, top-down processes related to the task relevance of sensory signals, and sensory switching. Thirty-five adults completed either a speeded detection or a discrimination task using the same auditory and visual stimuli and experimental setup. The stimuli consisted of unisensory and multisensory presentations of the letters 'b' and 'd'. The multisensory stimuli were either congruent (e.g., the grapheme 'b' with the phoneme /b/) or incongruent (e.g., the grapheme 'b' with the phoneme /d/). In the detection task, the participants had to respond to all of the stimuli as rapidly as possible while, in the discrimination task, they only responded on those trials where one prespecified letter (either 'b' or 'd') was present. Incongruent multisensory stimuli resulted in faster responses as compared to unisensory stimuli in the detection task. In the discrimination task, only the dual-target congruent stimuli resulted in faster RTs, while the incongruent multisensory stimuli led to slower RTs than to unisensory stimuli; RTs were the slowest when the visual (rather than the auditory) signal was irrelevant, thus suggesting visual dominance. Switch costs were also observed when switching between unisensory target stimuli, while dual-target multisensory stimuli were less likely to be affected by sensory switching. Taken together, these findings suggest that multisensory motor enhancements and sensory switch costs are influenced by top-down modulations determined by task instructions, which can override the influence of prior learnt associations.