Neuronal correlates of the subjective experience of attention

Stephen Whitmarsh*, Christophe Gitton, Veikko Jousmäki, Jérôme Sackur, Catherine Tallon-Baudry

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


The effect of top–down attention on stimulus-evoked responses and alpha oscillations and the association between arousal and pupil diameter are well established. However, the relationship between these indices, and their contribution to the subjective experience of attention, remains largely unknown. Participants performed a sustained (10–30 s) attention task in which rare (10%) targets were detected within continuous tactile stimulation (16 Hz). Trials were followed by attention ratings on an 8-point visual scale. Attention ratings correlated negatively with contralateral somatosensory alpha power and positively with pupil diameter. The effect of pupil diameter on attention ratings extended into the following trial, reflecting a sustained aspect of attention related to vigilance. The effect of alpha power did not carry over to the next trial and furthermore mediated the association between pupil diameter and attention ratings. Variations in steady-state amplitude reflected stimulus processing under the influence of alpha oscillations but were only weakly related to subjective ratings of attention. Together, our results show that both alpha power and pupil diameter are reflected in the subjective experience of attention, albeit on different time spans, while continuous stimulus processing might not contribute to the experience of attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3465-3482
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number11-12
Early online date26 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • alpha
  • attention
  • metacognition
  • pupil
  • somatosensory
  • steady-state


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