The Influence of Alertness on the Spatial Deployment of Visual Attention is Mediated by the Excitability of the Posterior Parietal Cortices.
Paladini RE., Müri RM., Meichtry J., Nef T., Mast FW., Mosimann UP., Nyffeler T., Cazzoli D.
With a reduced level of alertness, healthy individuals typically show a rightward shift when deploying visual attention in space. The impact of alertness on the neural networks governing visuospatial attention is, however, poorly understood. By using a transcranial magnetic stimulation twin-coil approach, the present study aimed at investigating the effects of an alertness manipulation on the excitability of the left and the right posterior parietal cortices (PPCs), crucial nodes of the visuospatial attentional network. Participants' visuospatial attentional deployment was assessed with a free visual exploration task and concurrent eye tracking. Their alertness level was manipulated through the time of the day, that is, by testing chronotypically defined evening types both during their circadian on- and off-peak times. The results revealed an increased excitability of the left compared with the right PPC during low alertness. On the horizontal dimension, these results were accompanied by a significant rightward shift in the center and a bilateral narrowing in the periphery of the visual exploration field, as well as a central upward shift on the vertical dimension. The findings show that the manipulation of non-spatial attentional aspects (i.e., alertness) can affect visuospatial attentional deployment and modulate the excitability of areas subtending spatial attentional control.