Activations of Human Auditory Cortex During Visual and Auditory Selective Attention Tasks with Varying Difficulty

Teemu Rinne*, 1, 2
1 Institute of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland
2 Advanced Magnetic Imaging Centre, Aalto University School of Science and Technology, Finland

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© Teemu Rinne; Licensee Bentham Open

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Institute of Behavioural Sciences, PO Box 9, FI-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland; Tel: +358-9-19129467; E-mail:


The present study was designed to directly test the hypothesis that suppression of activations to task-irrelevant sounds contributes to the attention-related modulations of auditory cortex (AC) activations observed in previous fMRI studies. Subjects selectively attended to auditory (broadband noise bursts with pitch) or visual (Gabor gratings) asynchronous fast-rate stimulus streams concurrently presented to left-ear, right-ear, above-fixation, or below-fixation. Auditory and visual task difficulty was parametrically manipulated in three levels. Behavioral data obtained during fMRI indicated that subjects achieved acceptable performance levels in all tasks and that the task-difficulty manipulation was effective. Consistent with previous studies, AC activations strongly depended on the direction of attention. AC activations to sounds were higher during auditory than during visual tasks and AC activations were higher in the hemisphere contralateral to the attended ear. However, the effects of task difficulty on AC activations were weak or non-existent. In particular, increasing task difficulty was not associated with a systematic decrease of AC activations in areas that were modulated by attention. These results suggest that suppression of AC activations to task-irrelevant sounds is likely to be small or negligible as compared with the strong activation enhancements observed in fMRI during active auditory tasks.

Keywords: fMRI, human, auditory cortex, selective attention, suppression.