Effect of attentional load on audiovisual speech perception: evidence from ERPs

TitleEffect of attentional load on audiovisual speech perception: evidence from ERPs
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsAlsius A, Möttönen R, Sams ME, Soto-Faraco S, Tiippana K
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Date Published07/2014
KeywordsAttention, Audiovisual speech perception, Event-related potentials, McGurk effect, multisensory integration

Seeing articulatory movements influences perception of auditory speech. This is often reflected in a shortened latency of auditory event-related potentials (ERPs) generated in the auditory cortex. The present study addressed whether this early neural correlate of audiovisual interaction is modulated by attention. We recorded ERPs in 15 subjects while they were presented with auditory, visual, and audiovisual spoken syllables. Audiovisual stimuli consisted of incongruent auditory and visual components known to elicit a McGurk effect, i.e., a visually driven alteration in the auditory speech percept. In a Dual task condition, participants were asked to identify spoken syllables whilst monitoring a rapid visual stream of pictures for targets, i.e., they had to divide their attention. In a Single task condition, participants identified the syllables without any other tasks, i.e., they were asked to ignore the pictures and focus their attention fully on the spoken syllables. The McGurk effect was weaker in the Dual task than in the Single task condition, indicating an effect of attentional load on audiovisual speech perception. Early auditory ERP components, N1 and P2, peaked earlier to audiovisual stimuli than to auditory stimuli when attention was fully focused on syllables, indicating neurophysiological audiovisual interaction. This latency decrement was reduced when attention was loaded, suggesting that attention influences early neural processing of audiovisual speech. We conclude that reduced attention weakens the interaction between vision and audition in speech.