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Attention controls multisensory perception via two distinct mechanisms at different levels of the cortical hierarchy

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Ferrari, A., & Noppeney, U. (2021). Attention controls multisensory perception via two distinct mechanisms at different levels of the cortical hierarchy. PLoS Biology, 19(11): e3001465. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.3001465.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000A-CE0C-2
To form a percept of the multisensory world, the brain needs to integrate signals from common sources weighted by their reliabilities and segregate those from independent sources. Previously, we have shown that anterior parietal cortices combine sensory signals into representations that take into account the signals’ causal structure (i.e., common versus independent sources) and their sensory reliabilities as predicted by Bayesian causal inference. The current study asks to what extent and how attentional mechanisms can actively control how sensory signals are combined for perceptual inference. In a pre- and postcueing paradigm, we presented observers with audiovisual signals at variable spatial disparities. Observers were precued to attend to auditory or visual modalities prior to stimulus presentation and postcued to report their perceived auditory or visual location. Combining psychophysics, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and Bayesian modelling, we demonstrate that the brain moulds multisensory inference via two distinct mechanisms. Prestimulus attention to vision enhances the reliability and influence of visual inputs on spatial representations in visual and posterior parietal cortices. Poststimulus report determines how parietal cortices flexibly combine sensory estimates into spatial representations consistent with Bayesian causal inference. Our results show that distinct neural mechanisms control how signals are combined for perceptual inference at different levels of the cortical hierarchy.