The Contributions of Sensory Dominance and Attentional Bias to Cross-modal Enhancement of Visual Cortex Excitability
Approaching or looming sounds (L-sounds) have been shown to selectively increase visual cortex excitability [Romei, V., Murray, M. M., Cappe, C., & Thut, G. Preperceptual and stimulus-selective enhancement of low-level human visual cortex excitability by sounds. Current Biology, 19, 1799-1805, 2009]. These cross-modal effects start at an early, preperceptual stage of sound processing and persist with increasing sound duration. Here, we identified individual factors contributing to cross-modal effects on visual cortex excitability and studied the persistence of effects after sound offset. To this end, we probed the impact of different L-sound velocities on phosphene perception postsound as a function of individual auditory versus visual preference/dominance using single-pulse TMS over the occipital pole. We found that the boosting of phosphene perception by L-sounds continued for several tens of milliseconds after the end of the L-sound and was temporally sensitive to different L-sound profiles (velocities). In addition, we found that this depended on an individual's preferred sensory modality (auditory vs. visual) as determined through a divided attention task (attentional preference), but not on their simple threshold detection level per sensory modality. Whereas individuals with "visual preference" showed enhanced phosphene perception irrespective of L-sound velocity, those with "auditory preference" showed differential peaks in phosphene perception whose delays after sound-offset followed the different L-sound velocity profiles. These novel findings suggest that looming signals modulate visual cortex excitability beyond sound duration possibly to support prompt identification and reaction to potentially dangerous approaching objects. The observed interindividual differences favor the idea that unlike early effects this late L-sound impact on visual cortex excitability is influenced by cross-modal attentional mechanisms rather than low-level sensory processes.