Slow neural oscillations explain temporal fluctuations in distractibility

Troby Ka Yan Lui*, Jonas Obleser, Malte Wöstmann

*Corresponding author for this work


Human environments comprise various sources of distraction, which often occur unexpectedly in time. The proneness to distraction (i.e., distractibility) is posited to be independent of attentional sampling of targets, but its temporal dynamics and neurobiological basis are largely unknown. Brain oscillations in the theta band (3 – 8 Hz) have been associated with fluctuating neural excitability, which is hypothesised here to explain rhythmic modulation of distractibility. In a pitch discrimination task (N = 30) with unexpected auditory distractors, we show that distractor-evoked neural responses in the electroencephalogram and perceptual susceptibility to distraction were co-modulated and cycled approximately 3 – 5 times per second. Pre-distractor neural phase in left inferior frontal and insular cortex regions explained fluctuating distractibility. Thus, human distractibility is not constant but fluctuates on a subsecond timescale. Furthermore, slow neural oscillations subserve the behavioural consequences of a hitherto largely unexplained but ever-increasing phenomenon in modern environments – distraction by unexpected sound.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102458
JournalProgress in Neurobiology
Publication statusPublished - 07.2023

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)

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