Multivariate analysis of EEG activity indexes contingent attentional capture

Jaap Munneke*, Johannes Jacobus Fahrenfort, David Sutterer, Jan Theeuwes, Edward Awh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


An extensive body of work has shown that attentional capture is contingent on the goals of the observer: Capture is strongly reduced or even eliminated when an irrelevant singleton stimulus does not match the target-defining properties (Folk et al., 1992). There has been a long-standing debate on whether attentional capture can be explained by goal-driven and/or stimulus-driven accounts. Here, we shed further light on this matter by using EEG activity (raw EEG and alpha power) to provide a time-resolved index of attentional orienting towards salient stimuli that either matched or did not match target-defining properties. A search display containing the target stimulus was preceded by a spatially uninformative singleton cue that either matched the color of the upcoming target (contingent cues), or that appeared in an irrelevant color (non-contingent cues). Multivariate analysis of raw EEG and alpha power revealed preferential tuning to the location of both contingent and non-contingent cues, with a stronger bias towards contingent than non-contingent cues. The time course of these effects, however, depended on the neural signal. Raw EEG data revealed attentional orienting towards the contingent cue early on in the trial (>156 ms), while alpha power revealed sustained spatial selection in the cued locations at a later moment in the trial (>250 ms). Moreover, while raw EEG showed stronger capture by contingent cues during this early time window, an advantage for contingent cues arose during a later time window in alpha band activity. Thus, our findings suggest that raw EEG activity and alpha-band power tap into distinct neural processes that index separate aspects of covert spatial attention.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117562
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
Early online date12 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021


Jaap Munneke: Responsible for all aspects of the presented research: Experimental design, data collection, data analysis and dissemination, Johannes Fahrenfort: Responsible for all aspects of the presented research, with a main focus on the computational data analysis and dissemination. This author contributed equally to the study compared to author 1, David Sutterer: Responsible for experimental design and data collection, Jan Theeuwes: Responsible for experimental design and dissemination, Ed Awh: Responsible for experimental design, data analysis and dissemination, All data have been made publicly available via the Open Science Framework and can be accessed at The used analysis code can be downloaded at

FundersFunder number
National Institute of Mental HealthR01MH087214


    • Alpha power
    • Attentional capture
    • Backward decoding models
    • Contingent capture
    • EEG
    • Forward encoding models
    • Multivariate EEG analyses
    • Raw EEG


    Dive into the research topics of 'Multivariate analysis of EEG activity indexes contingent attentional capture'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this