Neural Variability is Quenched by Attention

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Attention can be subdivided into several components, including alertness and spatial attention. It is believed that the behavioral benefits of attention, such as increased accuracy and faster reaction times, are generated by an increase in neural activity and a decrease in neural variability, which enhance the signal-to-noise ratio of task-relevant neural populations. However, empirical evidence regarding attention-related changes in neural variability in humans is extremely rare. Here we used EEG to demonstrate that trial-by-trial neural variability was reduced by visual cues that modulated alertness and spatial attention. Reductions in neural variability were specific to the visual system and larger in the contralateral hemisphere of the attended visual field. Subjects with higher initial levels of neural variability and larger decreases in variability exhibited greater behavioral benefits from attentional cues. These findings demonstrate that both alertness and spatial attention modulate neural variability and highlight the importance of reducing/quenching neural variability for attaining the behavioral benefits of attention.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)5975-5985
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number30
StatePublished - 24 Jul 2019


  • alertness
  • neural variability
  • spatial attention
  • variability quenching

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


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