The Curious Incident of Attention in Multisensory Integration: Bottom-up vs. Top-down

In: Multisensory Research
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  • 1 Neuroimaging Laboratory, Fondazione Santa Lucia, Rome, Italy
  • 2 Computational Neuroscience and Cognitive Robotics Centre, University of Birmingham, UK
  • 3 Department of Experimental Psychology, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
  • 4 Department of Psychology, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, USA
  • 5 Sorbonne Universites, UPMC Univ Paris, 06, UMR 7222, ISIR, F-75005, Paris, France
  • 6 Institute for Stroke and Dementia Research, Klinikum der Universität München, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität LMU, Munich, Germany

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The role attention plays in our experience of a coherent, multisensory world is still controversial. On the one hand, a subset of inputs may be selected for detailed processing and multisensory integration in a top-down manner, i.e., guidance of multisensory integration by attention. On the other hand, stimuli may be integrated in a bottom-up fashion according to low-level properties such as spatial coincidence, thereby capturing attention. Moreover, attention itself is multifaceted and can be described via both top-down and bottom-up mechanisms. Thus, the interaction between attention and multisensory integration is complex and situation-dependent. The authors of this opinion paper are researchers who have contributed to this discussion from behavioural, computational and neurophysiological perspectives. We posed a series of questions, the goal of which was to illustrate the interplay between bottom-up and top-down processes in various multisensory scenarios in order to clarify the standpoint taken by each author and with the hope of reaching a consensus. Although divergence of viewpoint emerges in the current responses, there is also considerable overlap: In general, it can be concluded that the amount of influence that attention exerts on MSI depends on the current task as well as prior knowledge and expectations of the observer. Moreover stimulus properties such as the reliability and salience also determine how open the processing is to influences of attention.

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